General Information on the GCC countries

The GCC was created in 1981 and consists of the states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. The population of the GCC totals approximately 40 million people and foreign nationals from all parts of the world live and work there. The constituent countries are aspiring to western standards of corporate governance and provide the main focus for corporate governance in the region.

A GCC common market was launched in 2008. The common market grants national treatment to all GCC companies and citizens in any other GCC country and in doing so removes all barriers to cross country investment and the trade in services.


Dubai is essentially a city state and is one of seven Emirates. With a population of over one million, it is one of the most populous in the United Arab Emirates.

Although Dubai’s economy was originally built on the back of the oil industry, the economy is now based on financial services, real estate and tourism. It is the most international of the GCC’s economies and has become the service hub of the region. Jebel Ali is one of the world’s leading container ports, Dubai Airport is an important link in international travel and trade zones such as the DIFC have employed western standards and regulations that have encouraged many companies to base their regional center’s there. Not least, Dubai has developed into an attractive place to live for western professionals and for many it is their preferred location.

Dubai was the biggest casualty of the economic crisis. It suffered from the twin perils of debt and falling property prices. However, there are ultimately strong elements which will help maintain Dubai’s momentum. Not withstanding the estimated 17% fall in the population of Dubai, the $100bn of government and associated company debt and the precipitous fall in property prices, there is every expectation that with the latent support of the UAE federal government, Dubai has successfully weathered the economic crisis.

The crisis is likely to spur the further development of the legal and regulatory framework which will ultimately be positive for the corporate governance profession. Many local groups and authorities are planning to further develop their functions and the potential for corporate governance in Dubai remains undiminished.

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Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi is another of the seven Emirates and by wealth and area dominates the United Arab Emirates. Abu Dhabi city is the capital and after Dubai the second largest city in the in UAE. It has a population of approximately 1 million. Economic development has historically been more restrained than in Dubai. It is the home to the federal government, central bank and the securities exchange. Its rapid development and urbanization has transformed Abu Dhabi making it one of the most Westernized Arab cities. As a major oil producer, accounting for over 95% of the UAE’s oil production, Abu Dhabi has actively diversified its economy in recent years through the development of financial services and tourism.

The effects of the economic crisis were less obvious in Abu Dhabi than in other GCC states. Budget surpluses built up in sovereign wealth funds were available to invest. While parts of the banking and property sectors suffered, the government has invested heavily in the energy sector and it is estimated that it will award more than $27billion worth of oil contracts. A range of infrastructure, property, tourism and cultural projects have also been embarked upon that will keep the economy growing.

The recession did however give pause as to how the economic crisis would affect the Emirate and internal audit recruitment slowed significantly. However, governance staff is now in demand for many of the new projects that are underway. This is also as a result of pressure from the government to enhance the quality of internal auditing and corporate governance more generally across the economy. With limited local resources this is increasing the demand for ex-patriot’s with specific industry skills.

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Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia is by far the largest of the GCC states in terms of its geographic size as the 14th largest country in the world. The population is approximately 28 million. Both the capital Riyadh and Jeddah are major cities.

Saudi Arabia's economy is petroleum-based with the oil industry comprising approximately 45% of Saudi Arabia's GDP. Saudi Arabia is the largest oil producer in the world and comfortably has the largest reserves. It has one of the fastest growing economies in the world. The government is promoting growth in the private sector by privatizing industries such as power and telecoms and is launching six "economic cities" which are planned to be completed by 2020. These six new industrialized cities are intended to diversify the economy.

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Bahrain is a small island state in the Gulf with a population of 1 million. It has one of the fastest growing economies in the world and within the GCC one of the most free. The economy has been substantially based on oil and petroleum products which accounts for over 30% of GDP and 60% of government revenues. Bahrain's banking and financial services sector, particularly Islamic banking, has contributed significantly to its growth. It has well developed communication and transport facilities, and is the regional base for a number of multinational groups.

As a country Bahrain remains a viable alternative to the UAE as a chosen destination for many ex-patriots. As growth accelerates, the banking and financial services sector still has significant development potential in terms of corporate governance.

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Kuwait has the world's fifth largest oil reserves and is the eleventh richest per capita country. It has a population of approximately 3.5 million. After Bahrain, Kuwait is judged to have the next most free economy in the GCC and after Saudi Arabia the largest stock exchange.

Kuwait’s oil industry accounts for 80% of government revenue and petroleum and petrochemicals accounts for nearly half of GDP. Other industries include shipping, construction, construction materials, water desalination and financial services. Kuwait has a well-developed banking system and several banks in the country date back to the time before oil was discovered.

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Qatar is an oil and gas-rich nation, with the third largest gas reserves and the second highest GDP per capita in the world. It has a population of approximately 1 million. Qatar has experienced rapid economic growth for several years and economic policy is focused on developing Qatar's non energy sectors which still account for over 50% of GDP and 70% of government revenues. In 2004, it established the Qatar Science & Technology Park to attract technology based companies whilst the Qatar Financial Centre provides financial institutions with world class services in investment, margin and no-interest loans, and capital support. Lusail, a new city for 200,000 residents is currently under development.

The Qatari economy has been one of the fastest growing economies in the world. With exports of liquefied natural gas forecast to increase and this growth shows little sign of slowing.

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Oman is not typical of most other GCC states. It is geographically larger and more diverse and naturally suited to cater towards tourism. It has a population of approximately 2.5 million and now only limited oil reserves. The economy is focused on mineral extraction around which industry has developed. Oman is looking to create attractive conditions for inward investment and is actively developing information technology and telecommunication industries. A free-trade agreement with the United States took effect in January 2009, eliminating tariff barriers on all consumer and industrial products. It also provides strong protection for foreign businesses investing in Oman.

Oman remained stable throughout the downturn. Although the economy slowed, the country has significant reserves that have allowed the government to invest $16 billion in a variety of projects. Tourism is high on the agenda with plans underway to double hotel room availability by 2015. The government is committed to economic diversity and this will result in steady growth in the demand for corporate governance. The country currently utilizes a relatively small number of expatriates, but the development of corporate governance is likely to see this change.

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