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CNBC Interview with DP World Chairman, Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, from the World Economic Forum 2019


Following are excerpts from a CNBC interview with DP World Chairman, Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, and CNBC's Steve Sedgwick and Geoff Cutmore.

GC: So let's pick up on this issue of trade with Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, Chairman and CEO of DP World. Good to see you, thank you for joining us here.

AS: Thank you very much for inviting me.

GC: Could I-, could I just get some comments from you on this? I mean, how concerned are you about this ongoing spat between China and the US on trade? Is it-, is it going to start having some real impact on international trade flows?

AS: It already has done that, the-, there is concern, there is a lack of visibility in the market, banks are very concerned about the repercussions, but all of this is psychological, in my opinion, because banks, the nature of their business is to safeguard assets, so naturally, they have to plan ahead. But when you look at what Trump is-, is saying, you have to look at what he does. He is a businessman, there was concern for us, in-, when they were talking to Canada and Mexico, because we have a sizable investment in Canada, but, at the end of the day, they had an agreement, and, no more issue. When it comes to Europe, there was a concern, and I think they are coming to an agreement. China is a big market, United States is a big market, and to Trump, he looks for fair trade versus free trade. He doesn't believe free trade treats the United States well, and that's where it comes. Since he's a businessman, I believe this whole issue between China and America, it's more of a-, to me, it's a negotiation tactic over business. They will come to an agreement, but until they come, they are disturbing the market.

SS: Yeah. Let me ask you a-, a very different question, if I may-

AS: Yes.

SS: And this is about the-, the-, the growth strategy for you. Now, I've seen very exciting developments about Virgin, the Hyperloop, and I've seen very exciting developments about Latin America, hence our-, our Brazil segment, just then, as well. But I want to look at the region itself. Why is it, and I keep asking the same question-,

AS: Mm.

SS: When I go on that strip, from Abu Dhabi to Dubai, and-, and I always-, I've been to Jebel Ali, I did interviews with one of your predecessors there, a fantastic complex. Why do we need Khalifa Port, as well? Why do we need KIZAD, as well? When will Abu Dhabi and Dubai stop competing, and actually start working together, to create this global standard infrastructure?

AS: Actually, the nature of our market is, the more facility you build, it will bring more business.

SS: Mm.

AS: In Jebel Ali, for example, Jebel Ali Free Zone is very famous, but they only have 90% of the land utilised. So I only have 10%. KIZAD is giving us more facility-,

SS: Mm.

AS: Because you don't have the land. Jebel Ali port is reaching-, it is maximum in capacity, we are increasing capacity with technology, so Khalifa Port is helping, because all these facilities, between Dubai and Abu Dhabi, which are big ports, you know, with the business in UAE, it gives business opportunity to everybody.

SS: I-, I-, and I know, sir, you say this is anticipating growth and future demand, but-, but-, but again, in so many areas, I see these-, the two Emirates competing, anticipating a demand, whether it's in the airline sector, whether it's in the infrastructure sector, in-, in attracting finance, as well. I just wonder if, ultimately, there will be replication that will be unnecessary, and actually, whether a more joined-up strategy would really achieve a lot more.

AS: We follow the market, and basically, everybody's going to invest, as long as the market takes it. If there is no market, nobody will-, government doesn't interfere, this is the policy in UAE.

SS: Mm.

AS: You want to compete? You want to do business? Fine. Everybody plays on the same platform. And, naturally, now, if you want to build your business, invest, you deal with banks, if the business is good, they are going to give you money, if-, if the banks believe it is maybe risk, they will not give you money.

SS: Mm.

AS: The market is growing, in our country, and had we listened, in the past, that, 'Oh, you need only one airline,' or, 'You need less of a port,' we wouldn't be able to handle the business we handle today.

SS: Sure.

GC: Can I ask you, where-, where does the biggest competitive threat emerge from, at this point? I-, I look at how quickly China has been globally expanding its port presence, and I ask, does the competition increasingly come from China, for port facilities, rather than from intraregional competition?

AS: Well, let me tell you, if-, if you ask me, I think the biggest concern for us, in-, in the logistics, is technology. The advancement in technology, and changes in it, affect our business, the traditional way of handling business. When you talk to China-, about China, China, as a government, has great respect, throughout the world. The-, unfortunately, the actions of Chinese companies don't reflect that. They have taken predatory practices, in something that's turning today to be a death trap, whereby they overextend their debts to countries, and eventually, they take their assets. This tarnishes the reputation of China, which is a country that's well respected. Unfortunately, some of these companies, because they have-, they are flush with cash, this disturbs the balance around the world-,

GC: So-,

AS: And-, and gives China a bad reputation, unfortunately.

GC: So-, so, you would be inclined to warn countries, that are looking at making facilities available to the Chinese, to be careful about the contracts that they sign?

AS: I would say you trust the Chinese government, you watch out the Chinese companies. Unfortunately, some of them-, some of them are good, we deal with them, and we-, we have great relation, but some of them, unfortunately, they use tactics which are not acceptable-,

SS: Sir-,

AS: In-, in gaining market share.

SS: We have to leave it there-,

AS: Thank you.

SS: It's been a real pleasure seeing you-,

AS: Thank you.

SS: Thank you very much indeed for joining us, Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem, who is the Chairman and CEO of DP World.