What is your assessment of the transformational changes the hydrocarbon industry in Abu Dhabi is going through?
The UAE is undergoing valuable change with a forward-looking strategy aimed at maximizing its physical resources over the long term. Bringing change is never an easy task, especially when it requires maintaining a connection to the past. In this sense, one of ADNOC's major initiatives has been the significant downstream push, which seeks to get as much value as possible out of the barrel at home. Over time, this will undoubtedly upgrade capabilities, jobs, and opportunities for the country and its citizens. Naturally, there is always room for improvement, though the UAE can count on the robust legacy of partnership in the country, which leads us to another major upgrade in the energy sector: ADNOC's partnership model. From now on, the focus will be to partner with international firms that are able to bring value, with ADNOC acting as a broker enabling the exchange of skills and technologies in the most innovative and value-driven way. This same model has worked in other industries, including financial and commercial, so there is reason to believe it will be successful in the hydrocarbon world too.
What new opportunities can the drive for innovation in Abu Dhabi and the UAE provide British firms with?
The UAE's passion for innovation and can-do attitude influences every aspect of life here, as the country keeps walking down the journey of continuous improvement. This dynamic environment means UK companies and business people see the UAE as a place where dreams can become reality. This place is attractive not only because there are fewer barriers, less bureaucracy, and more action, but also because there is a great deal of compatibility and history between the two countries. Today, the UAE is one of the UK's largest trading partners, and the UK is one of the UAE's leading sources of FDI. We represent 16% of the FDI in the country, which is significantly higher than anyone else. This compatibility is vital, though it might lead to a degree of complacency. There is a need to reinvent ourselves with vigor and creativity to continue to bring value to the country. As for the business channels of cooperation, there is great potential for UK firms to supply the UAE with the latest and greatest technologies, as well as for UK academic institutions to conduct research, develop new capacities, and fill in the gap left by the shying away of R&D.
What are some of the major challenges facing British businesses in the UAE and Abu Dhabi, and how do these challenges fit into the overall changes in the economy?
The UAE is no longer the country it used to be in 2016; there have been massive changes in only two years, and businesses must radically change the way they think in order to serve the UAE market. By looking at the issues the UAE seeks to improve, which are mostly related to water, sun, heat, and dust, it is clear that there is great potential for UK SMEs, which could make serious inroads if they expand their export facility. However, to become successful, UK firms would still need to overcome three main challenges. First, there has to be a degree of cooperation and coming together as one package to win the attention of UAE decision-makers. Second, once they are able to unify their intent, UK firms need to make the right connections and find the right people who can make these networks work, which is where institutions such as the BBG or high-profile personalities like Prince Andrew can step in. Third, British companies must be price competitive and recognize that the UAE is becoming an increasingly price sensitive market. With these three pillars in mind, the future for British businesses in the UAE can only be bright.