The upheaval started in January in Tunisia and by mid February not only has the leader of that country been ousted but also Mubarak in Egypt and this morning, February 17, the military in Bahrain has taken over that country’s capital. Protests and unrest are happening in a dozen other Middle Eastern countries. This has and will continue to have an impact on our businesses and on our employees!
Fuel and Energy
The price of crude oil rose in January due to the uncertainty in Egypt and the remote possibility of disruption of shipments through the Suez Canal. The price retreated following Mubarak’s departure but continued unrest in the region, especially amongst oil producers, could soon result in rapidly escalating prices that will quickly translate into higher transportation and energy costs in Atlantic Canada.
Egypt is the largest importer of wheat in the world and the supply side of the equation has been driving up prices due to weather related crop failures and protectionism by historic exporters such as Russia. Egypt must continue to feed its population and will purchase wheat on world markets but while Western Canada will benefit from increased prices and volumes of wheat sold, Atlantic Canadians will pay more for these goods and bread and other baked goods will continue to get more expensive.
The uninhibited flow of goods through the Suez Canal is vital to The Port of Halifax and its customers, suppliers and employees and any disruption would have negative implications for all of Atlantic Canada. Just after Mubarak’s departure Iran requested permission, for the first time in 30 years, for two military ships to pass through the Suez Canal. Israel quickly called this a provocation and the tension has lessened now that Iran has withdrawn the request.
Continued unrest in the Middle East may well require support or response from Maritime Forces Atlantic that could well see the deployment of ships and personnel into the region. This may well in turn necessitate the call up of reservists to enable the military missions.
Egypt has long been a tourism destination site but the influx of tourists to the region has dwindled considerably over the past month. While Atlantic Canadians may have to pick another destination outside of the Middle East over the short term the collapse of a significant source of revenue and employment will have major economic impact within local economies. Gail Adams, one of our associates travelled to Egypt last summer for a vacation and enjoyed it immensely and would return to Egypt tomorrow for another one.
Nova Scotia-developed curriculum is used in Cairo and Alexandria, Cape Breton University has a campus in Cairo, the College of the North Atlantic has a campus in Qatar and there is an EduNova Gulf office located in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. A large contingent of students from the Middle East attends educational institutions throughout Atlantic Canada.
Atlantic Canada, and Halifax in particular, has benefitted from a steady stream of immigrants from the Middle East, especially Lebanon over the longer term and more recently from Egypt. Continued unrest will create an impetus for enhanced immigration from the region while the adoption of democracy in countries such as Egypt may create an environment whereby residents will choose to stay in their homeland.
What to do? It is all about operating in a world of change and prioritizing our activities to optimize positive outcomes.
1) Risk Mitigation
- We all need to look at our operating plans, budgets and people with an eye to the impact Middle East in turmoil may have on us.
- Many of us have already taken steps to reduce energy costs but we need to consider what would happen if the price of oil was to leap 50%.
- What kind of support can we give those who have family in areas undergoing significant turmoil?
2) Seize the Opportunities
- Change creates opportunity.
- We know that we are going to face significant labour shortages in the future. Do we have opportunity to welcome immigrants from the Middle East into our businesses and communities? Look around at the very successful entrepreneurs who emigrated from the Middle East and have had a significant impact on Atlantic Canada .
- Imagine a free enterprise Egypt and what a market it might be for our goods and services.
More to come …