Dubai Chamber of Commerce & Industry opened an office in Brazil in 2017 and one in Panama in 2018. What was the philosophy behind opening these new offices?
Dubai Chamber of Commerce & Industry tends to open offices in markets with potential for businesses from Dubai. We look to these offices to provide us with more information because they are on the ground in those markets. As well as that mandate they showcase products and connect Dubai businesses looking for potential new markets. As part of this, our offices facilitate meetings and explain to members more about what can be done in a particular market. Our Panama office is the Chamber's 10th office. We started in Africa to facilitate trade and investment from both sides. In Latin America, São Paulo was our first office, Panama is the second, and we are not going to stop there. We are currently looking at Buenos Aires, Mexico City, Chile, and Colombia. We are trying to build a network to support our businesses in Dubai so they can learn more about the opportunities for trade and investment internationally. If they want to proceed, we want our people on the ground to help them close deals and connect with other businesses. We are also trying to promote Dubai through our overseas offices, facilitate more relationships and trade, and attract more businesses to the Emirate.
How do you think the 3rd Global Business Forum Latin America in Panama will foster stronger economic cooperation between Dubai, and in general the Arabian Gulf and Latin America?
The Global Business Forum Latin America – Panama 2019 is a platform through which we are trying to connect businesses together from both regions. We also involve the government to talk about challenges and opportunities, and showcase what can be done. This will be our third Global Business Forum on Latin America and the first held outside Dubai. This is a new experience for us. By hosting this event within Latin America, we can connect with a much bigger business community from not only Panama, but also South America, Central America, and the Caribbean region. We see a lot of potential in these regions and the first two forums were very successful in exploring opportunities and synergies We learned more about what can be done and through this third forum we want to continue that conversation. It will be an opportunity to showcase and provide more information because businesses keep evolving. We see a lot can be done to connect the two regions, and Panama and Dubai are great partners to do that.
How exactly will opening your Panama office assist Panamanian and Latin American companies and improve trade and exchanges between them and Dubai?
Promoting Dubai as an international business hub is one of Dubai Chamber's strategic objectives. Commerce and international trade are at the core of what we and our members do in Dubai. Through that we try to emphasize what we have been doing well for the past 40-50 years and we want to continue growing this into new markets. We have been doing a lot with Latin America, but of the USD360 million in trade Dubai generates each year, only 2% is represented by the region. For that reason, we believe there is still a lot of room to grow. Latin American markets have been trading with our part of the world, but perhaps they have not focused on it in the past. We see a lot of opportunities and it is not just about Dubai or the Gulf region. This is about the wider region of the Middle East, Africa, and Southern Asia. This is what we are working on by being on the ground in Latin America. We are expanding the Dubai Chamber's role and membership all the way through Latin America, and Panama is a great city to be in to connect with that region. We believe by doing this we can give our businesses more reasons to consider trading with that part of the world. We can also gather and validate more market intelligence if it is coming from the Dubai Chamber locally on the ground. It is a network that will support our international expansion and allow our businesses to grow their relationships with a part of the world that has a lot of products to trade. We are focusing a lot in the area of agriculture because the Arabian Gulf region imports nearly 90% of what we consume. For that reason, we are always looking at alternatives for imports in case circumstances change. We have succeeded in Africa with coffee, tea, and flowers, which Latin America already trades in, but not directly with our region—it is usually through Europe or America. We hope we will be able to divert some of that trade, which can provide quite a lot of value addition to businesses from both sides. People see Latin America as far away, but by establishing the infrastructure with offices and the direct air transport links Emirates offers, as well as growing existing businesses and establishing businesses in more countries, we believe trade will grow. This will connect the two regions further.
What are the advantages for Latin American countries using Dubai as a gateway to Asia, Africa, and the wider Middle East region?
Dubai is a distribution hub. We have a good geographical location, world-class infrastructure in terms of ports and air connectivity, and a business environment that makes it easy to conduct business. Dubai is relatively competitive and we have free zones that allow 100% foreign ownership and offer a tax-free haven. Dubai also has a business community that is well connected with the wider region. Therefore, doing business with our members gives a firm access to a sizable regional market in terms of population that demands and imports a lot of products. We believe that by connecting Latin America and the GCC through Panama and Dubai, we can offer wide access to companies from Latin America. And we are not only looking at trade; we are also looking for investment. We hope to be able to showcase some investments from Latin America, for example in the hospitality industry, where UAE businesses already have quite a good competitive advantage and strong knowledge, and the supply chain and logistics industry. We are looking for real estate opportunities, which Dubai knows how to do quite well. On the other side, Latin American companies are looking to showcase their infrastructure where Dubai Ports, for example, has already been operating well. They are hoping to connect more businesses, for example, in the field of renewable energy. We think there is a lot to sit and talk about, and continue the dialogue that has proven to be successful in the past. There is a very strong political relationship between the UAE and many Latin American countries and the Chamber wants to build on that. We want to increase tourism and connect businesses from both sides.
What is the biggest synergy and priority you see today between Latin America and Dubai?
We see a number of them. Agribusiness is one of our top priorities. We already have a strong relationship with Brazil, for example, and we want to diversify that into other countries. We have relationships with a number of countries, but these are quite concentrated and we believe there are other things that can be showcased. Latin American countries also want to diversify their business relationships away from North America. We realize that many Latin American businesses have Middle Eastern roots from previous generations, and some would like to reconnect with this part of the world. We are trying to address this. For the Global Business Forum, we are in partnership with the Inter-American Development Bank, which is doing a great job of supporting projects in Latin America, particularly in infrastructure. We hope that through this partnership we can engage more businesses from both sides and build more trust and transparency. Again, all of this is aimed at supporting businesses. The financial sector is one sector we did not look at in the past. Now that we have an established a presence in Panama, a leading finance hub for Latin America much like Dubai is to the Middle East, we look forward to exploring this high-potential area of cooperation further through our discussions and interactions with stakeholders at GBF Latin America – Panama 2019.