Hyperloop ambitions, African free trade and licensing online influencers

Hyperloop ambitions, African free trade and licensing online influencers
By Euronews

On this episode of Business Line, what is hyperloop technology and is it on the verge of transforming transport as we know it? Plus, as the African continent prepares to usher in a historic 54-nation free trade deal, will some countries benefit more than others? And a license to influence: how one Middle Eastern nation is taking the lead in regulating social media stars.

Hyperloop's Hyper-ambitions

Transportation could be on the verge of a revolutionary transformation.

Hyperloop technology is looking to use magnetic levitation to push pods through tubes at speeds of up to 300 metres per second. One of the very first routes carrying passengers could operate from right beneath downtown Dubai. 

Haj Dhaliwal is Virgin Hyperloop One's managing director for the Middle East and India. He told Euronews' James O'Hagan that Hyperloop technology is a crossover from space, aerospace and high speed rail engineering.

"We have a tube but we actually take the air out which is like flying at the edge of space. Within that environment we place a vehicle, we call it a pod. That vehicle, that pod, is then levitated using electro magnetic levitation. We then propel that vehicle using linear induction motors and that enables us to achieve extremely high speeds in a very safe environment.

"Imagine when time and distance is no longer a barrier. So we have proven to the world that this technology in full scale works. The speeds that we have achieved in half a kilometre is just shy of 400 kilometres an hour."

Dhaliwal says the pods will able to hit theoretical speeds of 1,100 km/hour and the technology will be in use by the end of 2027. 

"Imagine you getting into your autonomous car. That car would then actually go into a Hyperloop pod. The pod would then take you a thousand kilometres. Your vehicle would get out drive itself to your destination, to your door. That would be the ultimate seamless journey, what will it actually aim for in a decade maybe 15 years from now."

Virgin Hyperloop One has teamed up with one of the biggest port operators in the world, Dubai's DP World. The goal of the collaboration is to have a connected Gulf, where people can travel from Abu Dhabi to Riyadh in 48 minutes and Dubai to Abu Dhabi in 12 minutes. And it could transform the future of global freight entirely, Dhaliwal says. 

"Imagine if time from production to delivery, instead of being weeks via traditional shipping, was now cut down to a matter of hours.

"I think the impact will be as as probably as great as flight back in 1904. It's fair to say that the race is truly on."

Africa Free Trade Deal

As world powers like the US and UK back out of multilateral trade agreements, the continent of Africa is looking to implement a landmark 54-nation free trade deal. It would create an economic block worth more than 3 trillion euros. But some within a country that’s already signed up are getting cold feet. 

The African Continental Free Trade Area aims to create an economic bloc worth more than 3 trillion euros, boosting trade among 54 African nations, which stood at just 17 percent of exports in 2017. The deal’s big backers like South Africa and Kenya say it will give their companies access to millions of new customers. But many in the continent’s largest market, Nigeria, fear cheap goods from more competitive neighbours will cripple local manufacturing.

Adeleke Adeley is Chief Operating Officer at Nigeria's FAE Limited. He says the new deal doesn't offer a level playing field: 

"I consider Nigeria the lion of Africa where we have the largest population and we have the largest market, so it feels like we are giving so much for not enough."

Nigeria's economy, with its GDP of nearly 400 billion euros and a population of 190 million - belies major weaknesses. Namely: a heavy reliance on crude oil exports, major smuggling operations and poor transportation infrastructure.

Mansur Ahmed chairs the Manufacturers' Association of Nigeria

''Harmonization of the customs arrangement, and technical barriers, I think these are some of the things that have to be negotiated amongst the participants in the agreement that will try to eliminate the possibility of increased dumping and increased smuggling.''

To make the most of this free trade deal, it is estimated that Nigeria would need to invest about 13.5 billion euros annually to update transportation and power networks. But it could be a small price to pay for greater industrial capacity.

"Africa has to have its own industrial capacity to be able to take the advantage of a 3.3 trillion dollar market with the African Continental Free Trade Area," says Akinwumi Adesina, President of the African Development Bank. 

If Nigeria slow pedals implementing the new deal, there is concern it could be scuppered altogether. But if it can compete in the new markets, the potential for growth is enormous.

License to Influence

The Middle East and North Africa region is home to some of the most expensive social media influencers in the world. And big brands are willing to pay top dollar to reach customers in the region. But now the United Arab Emirates has brought out measures to ensure they have a license to influence.

What does it mean to really influence? For Saudi Arabian fashionista Alanoud Badr it’s all about impact and that’s what she’s had for more than a decade, first with her style blog and then the UAE-based clothing label Lady Fozaza which she set up in 2011. The trailblazer attracted the attention of celebrities like Lady Gaga and Kim Kardashian along with nearly 750,000 instagram followers. 

Brands became interested too, hiring Badr to sell their products. They are attracted to the quality and level of engagement she has with her followers.

"You know if [an influencer] has a special bond with those followers," Badr says, "because if she does, whatever she speaks about will resonate. And if she wants to promote a brand or let’s say, whatever, they will take it in and they will react to it. That’s the money’s worth."

An issue some big brands face is hiring influencers with big followings but low engagement. There are even fake or so-called inactive ghost accounts out there. So to regulate the social media marketing industry, the UAE has made licenses for commercialised influencers mandatory.

Nasser Al Tamimi is Director of Media Licenses at the UAE's National Media Council. He says the situation was chaotic before licenses were introduced. 

"Now there’s the decision and an organised process. People know what rights they have and what they are responsible for. Companies know their rights and what they are responsible for."

About 1,700 licenses have been issued so far. They cost about 4,000 US dollars (3,600 euros) a year and require applicants to be a minimum of 21-years-old and hold a bachelor’s degree. By joining a media agency, influencers can cut costs and work under that company’s license. 

Agency owner Ashley Cadzow says the MENA region has some of the most expensive influencers world-wide commanding between 3,000 and 100,000 dollars (2,700 and 90,000 euros) per deal.

"I’m constantly sitting in meetings with brands and they’re sitting there saying: ‘How do we talk to Saudi Arabia? How do we talk to the wider GCC?’And influencers are the way to do that."

_Watch the full episode of Business Line in the media player above. _