DUBAI: China's Belt and Road Initiative and plans by Gulf economies to diversify from oil will help HSBC HSBA.L to more than double its profit within its commercial bank in the Middle East and North Africa, a senior bank executive said.

"You have probably two of the biggest infrastructure programmes ever undertaken: the Middle East transformation programmes and the Belt and Road Initiative. We are in many of the countries where this is being undertaken, so we are at the heart of it," Daniel Howlett, HSBC regional head of commercial banking in Middle East, North Africa and Turkey (MENA), told Reuters.

The commercial bank, which includes trade finance, cash management and capital financing, reported profit of $199 million in MENA in 2017 and profit of $6.8 billion for the commercial bank globally.

"Within the commercial bank, I believe we can more than double profit in the next five years in this region," he said.

The commercial bank's Middle East pipeline was better than ever, Howlett said, with clients looking for financing for cross-border mergers and acquisitions, projects, trade services, lending and other products.

Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar are among governments pushing ahead with plans to move their economies away from a dependence on oil revenues.

HSBC was seeking new business related to those transformation plans in sectors such as education, professional services, infrastructure, healthcare and private equity, he said, highlighting UAE, Egypt and Kuwait as stand out markets for growth.

Asked if HSBC's appetite for doing business with Saudi Arabia had changed as a result of the international uproar surrounding the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Howlett said HSBC was committed to the country.

"We have a long-term, strategic commitment to the region. Saudi Arabia is a G20 member and an important part of that and we have a duty to serve our clients wherever they may operate," he said.

Although the business stemming from China's Belt and Road Imitative in the region was relatively "nascent" so far, HSBC expects to benefit from an estimated $2 trillion China plans to spend on the scheme globally over the next 15 to 20 years, he said.

The project, unveiled by Chinese President Xi Jinping in 2013, aims to bolster a sprawling network of land and sea links with Southeast Asia, Central Asia, the Middle East, Europe and Africa.

(Editing by Alexandra Hudson) ((; +97144536265; Reuters Messaging: