What are the key sectors in which the free zone would like to see more investment?
We are not necessarily trying to focus on one area, but the way our infrastructure is developing means that the Emirates are looking for more tourism, healthcare, education, and so on. We all have the same mindset: anyone who wants to come and invest in the Emirates is welcome to do so. Through the cabinet and the Ministry of Economy, the UAE federal government has seven priorities, which include innovation and space, and is a good mandate to have. But at the same time, most governments in the Emirates are focusing on attracting any kind of FDI. These are based on their ease of doing business, infrastructure, and availability. For example, when Ajman is discussing strengthening our healthcare offering, we are thinking about developing more labs. The competition is high, which means it is crucial to have the necessary infrastructure to facilitate and accommodate FDI.
From where are you looking to attract industry?
There is no doubt that our FDI profile has changed over the years. The typical clientele has changed due to political adjustment in the region. That is why the Emirates are reorienting themselves to other markets. We are particularly focused on the CIS countries like Ukraine and Azerbaijan, but smaller countries not well known in this region are also a good target for us. Within the Emirate, we have over 200 nationalities, including players from the UK, India, and the Far East. They are the players that will be the core business and the mediators for this growth, especially Indian companies because, after the visits of Sheikh Mohammed, the quality of business with India should rise. I was feeling optimistic about Africa over the last three to five years, though the return has yet to be strong.
What are you doing to make your free zone look more attractive than other Emirati options?
Infrastructure and legislation are both pivotal. The third thing is market availability. Sometimes it is not the price or the quality of service, but availability in the market. We are trying to create a market that can be successful in this region. We are expecting some refineries to come, and this will attract other related businesses. People always go after pricing and facilities, but the availability of business opportunities is very important too. I agree with the general consensus that we need to move away from over-reliance on the oil and gas industry and work to diversify the economic base. The infrastructure we have in place supports this. Different Emirates have different niches; for example, many companies went to Ras Al Khaimah because there was a lot of real estate activity there that has now developed into a growing market for schools. Likewise, people go to Dubai because of the potential for trade. We therefore have to try and differentiate our offering. We are examining what our strengths are, and which businesses would be attracted to our Emirate. We want to encourage those with long-term plans and good intentions to come. One sector we are emphasizing is food processing. For this free zone, or any for that matter, it needs to go the extra mile.