TBY talks to Hamad Buamim, Director General of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce & Industry, on the variety of services the Chamber offers and its close relationship with government strategies and key markets.
TBY How is the Chamber’s strategy aligned with the 2012-2016 Federation of the UAE Chambers of Commerce vision?
HAMAD BUAMIM The Dubai Chamber was established in 1965 through a decree issued by the late Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum. He realized the important role that a chamber of commerce would play in supporting the economy, and since then the Dubai Chamber has become a major business organization in the UAE. Over the past decade, company profiles have altered dramatically and are now much more sophisticated than what they were 10 years ago. By updating and refining our products and services in line with differing business needs, we have been able to attract new members and better support and protect the wider business community. Our offices are located in key commercial areas in order to make our products and services more accessible to the business community. They can be found in the Jebel Ali Free Zone (Jafza), Dubai Airport Free Zone (DAFZ), and Al Awir area, as well as at the Department of Economic Development (DED), Al Twar Center, and Dubai Industrial City. Our services have also changed to become more complex as doing business becomes more sophisticated. Not only do we offer documentation services for traders, we also provide legal advice and support, business networking opportunities, and economic research to the entire business community. At the same time, we are helping companies meet international standards of sustainable business through our Center for Responsible Business and resolve commercial disputes in an amicable way through the Dubai International Arbitration Centre (DIAC). Helping our members meet best international practice is part of Dubai Chamber’s strategy. Therefore, we are closely aligned with the strategy of the Federation of the UAE Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FCCI) for the 2012-2016 period. Earlier in 2012, we hosted and participated in the first workshop for the FCCI team responsible for developing the proposed new strategy. The project is important, and the Dubai Chamber will support and contribute in any way possible to accelerate the development of the strategy, which aims to develop technical and administrative policies based on best international standards.
As one of the world’s top 10 business destinations, what are the factors that lend credibility to Dubai as an international business hub?
Dubai has a number of benefits for international businesses, which help attract new companies every year from all corners of the globe. These include the city’s strategic location in the center of the map. Dubai offers easy access to several major consumer markets and as such is one of the world’s leading re-export destinations. At the same time, Dubai offers companies a safe and stable environment to do business. The city is geared toward helping companies prosper with business-friendly laws, modern infrastructure, and a diverse and predominantly young workforce. One attraction for international businesses specifically is free zones, which are tax free and allow for full ownership and profit repatriation.
Which regions have you identified as holding significant potential?
The main markets we have identified include India, CIS countries, Africa, and Latin America. Dubai historically has strong ties with India and parts of Africa, and we are working hard to build stronger links with many countries, particularly in eastern Africa, by sending overseas delegations and hosting the Eastern African Community Forum in Dubai in October 2012. Meanwhile, Latin American and CIS countries are witnessing incredibly strong growth, and we believe that our members could benefit from the opportunities being created in those parts of the world.
What trends have you witnessed in terms of exports and companies applying for membership?
Our members’ exports in 2011 reached AED246 billion, which is 14.5% higher compared to 2010. This total is also higher than the peak in 2008, which was AED213 billion. This expansion demonstrates the strength of the trade sector and its importance for Dubai’s economic growth. As for our membership trends, last year we added 10,092 new members, which took our total membership to over 128,000. This was an increase of 8.5%, which points toward the economic growth that Dubai witnessed in 2011. We have seen our membership increase again to over 130,000 in 1Q2012, as more companies choose to set up in the Emirate.
What benefits will the ATA Carnet system bring to Dubai, and what motivated the initiation of the system at this stage?
The UAE began accepting ATA Carnets for goods for use at trade fairs, shows, and exhibitions on April 1, 2011. The Dubai Chamber is the national guaranteeing and issuing agency of ATA Carnets in the UAE. Known as a “passport for goods,” the ATA Carnet is an international customs document that permits the duty-free and tax-free temporary import of goods for up to one year. The UAE is the first country in the GCC to implement this system, and we are encouraging our partners across the region to also adopt it. In Dubai, there are many trade shows every year, and the adoption of this system will make importing products and goods for display much simpler and more affordable. This will be a major boost for companies working in the sector. We firmly believe it will help attract more exhibitors to Dubai, which was one reason behind our motivation to use the ATA Carnet system.
What lessons were learned from the global liquidity crisis, and how far along the road to recovery would you say Dubai’s economy is?
The main lesson learned was about stability. We need to move away from the boom and bust years and focus on achieving sustainable growth over a longer period. And this is not just a lesson for Dubai—this applies to every economy in the world. In terms of recovery, Dubai has come a long way. The country’s key economy drivers—trade, tourism, logistics, and financial services—have bounced back to their pre-crisis levels. That is not to say we are out of the woods yet, especially considering the financial pressures that continue globally. However, we are certainly on a more even footing.
Where in particular can further reforms be implemented to facilitate economic growth?
A number of new laws and updates to existing legislation are currently being studied by the UAE authorities, which will help drive business growth. These include a draft of the UAE bankruptcy law, to be ready by the end of 2012. The law is aimed to enable listed and family-owned businesses in the UAE to be rescued, rather than having to go through lengthy liquidation or bankruptcy proceedings should they fall into financial difficulty. This will have the effect of easing restructuring and offering out-of-court negotiations, which in turn will help attract more overseas investments.
What is your outlook for 2012 for the Chamber’s activities and the wider economy?
In 2012, Dubai Chamber will focus its efforts on enhancing business relations with key emerging markets in India and Africa. In October 2012, we will host the Eastern African Community Forum in Dubai to help build bridges and connect our members with interested companies overseas. This follows delegation visits to Surat and Ethiopia. Generally, we anticipate Dubai’s economic growth to be around 3%-4% in 2012.
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