What role does the manufacturing sector play in Ras Al Khaimah's economy?
MOHAMMAD AL IBRAHIM There are two main industries in Ras Al Khaimah: manufacturing and tourism. They shape the economy of Ras Al Khaimah, create jobs, and contribute to its diversification. The manufacturing sector is an important part of any economy as a main driver for economic strength and innovation through R&D, which is what we are seeing in Ras Al Khaimah. We see products sourced from Ras Al Khaimah distributed to all corners of the UAE and the wider region. In the manufacturing sector, the main advantage is the ease of doing business. The regional authorities support business and help industry grow in the Emirate. There has been considerable improvement in streamlining license renewals and other required paperwork and processes. Overall, it is a transparent and smooth process. Ras Al Khaimah has a world-class infrastructure for industrial companies, and, overall, costs are competitive.
What will be Ras Al Khaimah's role in the construction sector for the region?
HESHAM EL ACHKAR Ras Al Khaimah is known for many industries, for example RAK Ceramics, which has become a global name. The construction sector is thriving in the UAE and the Middle East region as well, and the industries in Ras Al Khaimah will be major players. At the end of 2017 and the start of 2018, construction has started to boom again, especially in Ras Al Khaimah. It is mainly because clients are happy to invest now and have the funds. There are new projects that only recently started. The Anantara Hotel and Resort and the Intercontinental Hotel in Mina Al Arab are major projects that have started construction. The other boom in the construction in Ras Al Khaimah is due to the new residential and commercial buildings.
How do you evaluate Ras Al Khaimah as a hub for exports?
MAI Currently, there is a world-class port that allows the import and export of bulk material. In addition, the government is working to expand the container terminals and this could benefit Guardian. We are currently moving products by land through Jebel Ali Port in Dubai. Expanding container trade in this area will result in a better and faster way of exporting. We need international containers and carriers to be connected here, and there is room for growth in this area.
How fierce is the competition with other players?
HEA Our current market is Ras Al Khaimah whereas in Dubai and Abu Dhabi there are major players and the competition is higher there. Prices are being driven down because of that competition and we face problems with payments from customers. We decided recently to focus our attention on the Ras Al Khaimah market where we have excellent relationships with all the major players and thus do not typically face problems with payments. Ras Al Khaimah is a big market, with a great deal of construction going on. Competitors from Dubai and Abu Dhabi have their own developments and projects to deal with.
How do you envision the construction sector in the UAE performing in 2018?
MAI 2018 will be a positive year for the construction sector and for Guardian Glass because there are many projects in the pipeline and most of them will require glass. We do see a shift to more sustainable construction and increasing specifications of high quality products that can help reduce energy consumption. Moreover, glass can help reduce cooling costs, which can be significant in this region. Finally, we have already entered the two-year countdown to Expo 2020, which will be a key driver for growth in the construction sector.
What is demand for granite and marble like currently?
HEA There is great demand. In Ras Al Khaimah, our major competitor, RAK Ceramics, is one of the biggest ceramic producers in the world. Fortunately, there is no real alternative to natural marble and granite; though RAK Ceramics produces artificial marble, people are willing to pay for natural marble. Most of the artificial marble produced by ceramics companies is in fact fairly expensive as well because it is not easy to produce. When we look and compare the artificial item to the natural one, there is only a small difference in price. Therefore, most customers still prefer to go for natural marble and granite.