Mike Moore, the former director general of the World Trade Organisation has warned the GCC that its migrant workforce is an issue that needs to be tackled. The former director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has named the Gulf’s sprawling migrant workforce as potentially the biggest issue facing the region today.
Mike Moore, a former prime minister of New Zealand, warned that the sheer number of expatriates residing in the oil-rich Gulf states was tantamount to colonisation.
The GCC is dependent on imported labour, with an estimated 13 million foreign workers residing in its six states and comprising about 37% of the population. In Dubai, expats outnumber citizens by five to one.
Moore admitted there was no ready solution to the demographic imbalance, but said the region’s monarchies acted as a buffer against the foreign workforce.
“It’s not the power the monarch has, it’s the power they deny the people,” he told Arabian Business on the sidelines of the QFinance Global Debates. “What is certain is that [their solution] will not conform to the think-tanks of North America or Britain.”
His comments chime with those of Bahrain Labour Minister Dr Majeed Al Alawi, who has lobbied openly for the introduction of a residency cap for unskilled migrants, enforcing a maximum five-year stay in the Gulf.
“We need to protect society, and our identity as an Arab nation, without being racist,” he told Arabian Business in June, warning that the local population risked being alienated by the influx of expats.
Moore also criticised the creeping trend among Gulf states to buy up foreign farmland in developing countries; a move aimed at shoring up food security. He accused Western leaders of “pulling their punches” by failing to protest the buy-up of land in developing countries.
“People are too polite and we pull our punches. There is this cultural cringe in Europeans, with their history, and those of us with Western economic experience,” he said. “A lot of people worry that if they offend the region, they won’t get the business. But it’s a moral decision – we should be more robust.”
Some of the largest deals include Saudi’s acquisition of 500,000 hectares of land in Tanzania, and the UAE’s purchase of 400,000 hectares in Sudan.
“I think this could well end in tears. It’s a simplistic sort of food security, and it didn’t work for the British Empire which was built on it. My country was a bloody farm for years. Real food security is being able to buy from 20 different sources, so if things are bad in Uruguay, you can go into South Africa, and encourage competition in the market,” he said.
During his tenure at the WTO, Moore was the architect of the Doha round of trade negotiations in 2001. The talks aimed to slash farm subsidies and agricultural tariffs with the goal of helping poor countries to grow through trade.
The Doha round is now the longest-running set of multilateral trade talks in history.