The UAE has a long history of trading, primarily because of its desirable geographical position between Europe and the Far East. The region became an attractive place for global merchants to meet and trade, with Indian and Chinese merchants meeting their European counterparts to trade in exotic spices, herbs, jewels and textiles.
We all know the history of the pearl industry and the oil and gas industry in the UAE, and how our forefathers worked so hard to develop our nation. Their industriousness has allowed the country to thrive.
Today, the UAE is widely considered an excellent place for businesses to grow, and the rich trading history means we have a great reputation globally as a nation of merchants and entrepreneurs.
And since the formation of the modern nation as we know it today in 1971, great leaps have been taken in terms of infrastructure, regulations, laws, taxation and visas to ensure the UAE remains an attractive place for people all over the world to conduct business. Let’s not forget that the vision of our leaders in creating the UAE, was to retain a strong sense of cultural identity, by remaining mindful of tradition while building a solid, future-proof administrative structure.
Attracting foreign companies to the UAE was relatively straightforward in the early days of the nation. A youthful nation, with vast energy income and a desire to rapidly develop world class infrastructure and facilities saw a flood of interest from foreign business concerns. Mindful of the need to protect national interests and income, the sponsorship model meant any foreign concern wishing to begin operating in the UAE had to seek a local partner.
This model ensured solid economic benefits for everyone concerned and boosted the national GDP. Yet today, that model has changed, with a plethora of free zones and cutting-edge business set-up models to suit all stages of business.
Governments, private business set-up companies, lawyers and accountants are all on hand to help create new businesses, supporting an increasingly international urban, savvy population.
Time to diversify
While oil and gas revenues helped build and develop the UAE, we are now moving towards an economic model which is diversifying away from reliance on the ever-depleting fossil fuels. And that national model must be underpinned by a number of factors, including a laissez-faire economy, entrepreneurs and creativity.
At a time when global economies are still reeling from the effects of the pandemic, impartial analysts at FocusEconomics still forecast the UAE’s GDP to expand by 3.0% in 2021, and by 3.6% in 2022.
And the latest figures available from the same analysts suggest in 2019, the UAE exported goods to the value of US$316 billion, a clear indication of a powerful economy.
An attractive proposition
Given the historical perspective, geography, infrastructure and legal and regulatory framework, it’s easy to see why business finds the UAE an attractive proposition.
And now, as a further indicator of a maturing economy, we are seeing a number of homegrown brands – across all sectors – going from start-ups to scale-ups to eyeing international markets.
Innovation is a key government strategy, codified within the exciting raft of sustainable development plans, including the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030, Environment Vision 2030 (Abu Dhabi), Plan Abu Dhabi 2030, Abu Dhabi Transportation Mobility Management Strategy, Surface Transport Master Plan (Abu Dhabi), Dubai Autonomous Transportation Strategy, Dubai Industrial Strategy 2030, Dubai 3D Printing Strategy and the UN’s 2030 Agenda.
The UAE is increasingly considered an active test bed for new business ideas, given the size of market, the international population and the business breaks now offered.
Taking Dubai Industrial Strategy 2030 as an example, this plan, launched by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed, Ruler of Dubai, in June 2016, aims to elevate Dubai into a global platform for knowledge-based, sustainable and innovation-focused businesses.
The strategy revolves around five key objectives: to increase total output and value-addition of the manufacturing sector, enhance depth of knowledge and innovation, make Dubai a preferred manufacturing platform for global businesses, promote environmentally friendly and energy-efficient manufacturing and make Dubai a centre for the global Islamic products market.
These ambitious aims centre upon six sub-sectors – maritime, aluminium and fabricated metals, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment, food and beverages and machinery and equipment.
Whether entrepreneurs choose to invest time and effort into these recommended sectors remains to be seen, but Dubai Industrial Strategy is projected to generate an additional AED160 billion by 2030.
We can all understand, therefore, why the UAE is not only a fertile ground for new business, attracting global talent, but also why these businesses, on achieving great success at home, are increasingly looking to expand further afield.
And our task must surely be to support these businesses, not only to benefit ourselves and our national economy, but to help them carry the flag globally and remind other countries of the success of our visionary leaders’ drive to instigate business success, both at home and abroad.