It’s fair to say that the Middle East and North Africa region is going through a bit of a rough patch. In April, the International Monetary Fund almost halved its growth forecasts for the region to just 1.3% for 2019 – a sharp fall from the previous estimate of 2.5% made in October last year.

It comes as Mena continues to wrestle with slower oil growth and geopolitical tensions. Meanwhile, the region is not isolated from global trends including trade wars and a general economic slowdown across the globe.

But local players seem resilient, with companies looking to alternative markets for growth and trade finance banks exploring new ways to support their clients.

One way in which Mena banks are stepping up their game is through new technology. In the UAE, for example, 2019 has already seen the announcements of two independent trade platforms seeking to change the way SMEs access financing.

One is UAE Trade Connect, which is helping banks address the risks of double financing and fraud. First Abu Dhabi Bank, Etisalat and Avanza Innovations, who are leading the project, are now forming a working group of banks to pilot and review the solution.

Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi Global Market and Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank are building a trade receivables discounting platform called UAE Trade Receivables Exchange. Having developed and tested a prototype together with fintech firm M1xchange, they are now waiting for the UAE central bank to approve the project.

No wonder, then, that technology takes centre stage in this year’s Mena trade leaders roundtable, where participants voice their opinion on what needs to happen for fintech to really take off in the region.

There are many other exciting changes in store for the Middle East and North Africa: in one feature in this annual publication, we uncover how Expo 2020 could be a game changer for the UAE, with some expecting it to drive growth for more than a decade after the event. Another report looks at how Mena could profit handsomely from China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

In the publication’s Trade Briefing, independent economist Rebecca Harding further details how Mena’s export and import profiles are changing, why Saudi Arabia’s dominance is declining and what sectors look set to play a prominent role in the region in the years ahead.

We also report from the latest GTR Women in Trade Finance event in Dubai in February, which this time saw a high attendance of men in trade finance, who too were interested in hearing how they can help drive gender diversity in their workplaces. This growing attention around the issue, together with more focus from the local government, could well be a starting point for change in the region.