What is your assessment of the economy in Sharjah when considering the effects of the pandemic?
First I should mention the resilience of the UAE economy. The pandemic actually proved that the UAE has not only a resilient economy, but also a flexible government that takes action reflecting the scenario at hand and experiences of the world economy. We have seen the UAE changing regulations and introducing new ones, with the most important one being the new commercial laws for companies that allow foreign companies and investors up to 100% ownership. Implementing this law during the pandemic proves that the UAE has a very resilient economy that can invite companies from around the world to invest in the UAE. They also introduced new laws for residency in the UAE with “golden visas”. People can conduct business freely, leave, and return as often as they like. During the pandemic, the government of Sharjah approved a stimulus package of around AED1 billion, which came in different forms. Some of it came in the form of government subsidies, fee reductions, and tax exemptions. Others came through loans that were facilitated through banks owned by the Sharjah government. There were different incentives given to startups and companies through different free zones that we have in the Emirate, of which there are six. Some incentives reduced the cost of establishing companies, others reduced the cost of renting warehouses and offices. There were also funds given to companies from all around the world to come and invest in diverse sectors, such as publishing. This was realized in collaboration with Sheraa, the Sharjah Startup Center.
How can Sharjah facilitate greater investment opportunities and what is your organization doing to boost interest?
Before the recovery started, we did our homework. We revised our strategy for the sectors that Sharjah was set to focus on post-COVID-19. We have updated the strategy and we worked with PwC to restructure our whole approach in terms of FDI attraction. Currently, we are focused on seven sectors: health and wellbeing, mobility and logistics, culture and tourism, agrifood technology, green technology, human capital and innovation, and advanced manufacturing. These are in alignment with the UAE's overall strategy and the sectors that the UAE is focusing on. In terms of advanced manufacturing, the Ministry for Advanced Science in the UAE has recently announced a new industrial strategy called “Operation 300 Billion.” This is a 10-year, comprehensive strategy that aims to empower and expand the industrial sector in the UAE. The “300 billion” is in reference to the many manufacturers around the world that are invited to invest in advanced manufacturing in the UAE. Then there's the “Made in the UAE” program whereby companies are encouraged to come to the UAE to manufacture and export to the whole world from the UAE. We are very keen to focus on this, and in this lens, we launched the new Sharjah Research and Technology Park in late 2020, which aims to attract different companies and technology in manufacturing, 3D printing, blockchain, and so on. These are the main sectors we're set to focus on, and today we make note of Bee'ah, one of the leading environmental companies with great ambitions in hydrogen energy and renewable energy. There are two programs they are working on; one is with Masdar, which will produce energy from waste, and the other is with Chinook, which will produce hydrogen power, also from waste. Sharjah is eager to develop green energy and green technology. When it comes to health and wellbeing, we have launched Healthcare City, which we expect to attract many healthcare providers from around the world. Recently it announced the Emirate's first oncology center. When it comes to mobility and logistics, we want to take advantage of the infrastructure we have, especially our three ports, Sharjah International Airport, and the various free zones we have attached to our ports and airports. In terms of culture and tourism, Sharjah is known as the cultural capital of the UAE. We have many new tourist attractions, especially in ecotourism and archaeological tourism in Kalba, Khor Fakkan, and Dibba.
Within the seven focus sectors, what strategies are in place to enhance private-sector activity?
This goes through the services we provide at the Sharjah FDI office. We have a support unit that supports all investors interested in Sharjah, whether by guiding them through the process of investment and doing business, or simply by giving them the right advice on where to locate, whether on the mainland, or in one of our free zones. We also support them by helping them get located in the right area, whether it is an office, a warehouse, a factory, or any other type of operation. We provide the right information on new rules and regulations and what's happening in the country and at the Emirate level, which helps them access the stimulus packages that the government has released. This is our role when it comes to helping the private sector. The Sharjah FDI office (Invest in Sharjah) falls under the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq). Through Shurooq, we aim to create partnerships with the private sector.
What are your goals and expectations for the rest of 2021?
The way the UAE government handled the whole situation, whether vaccinations or taking precautionary measures and being able to reopen the economy, was reflected in many sectors. You can see that luxury living spaces shot up in price by over 30% due to the fact that many investors from around the world started to look at the UAE as a home for themselves, their families, and their businesses. This sped up the recovery in the UAE. By 2022, I believe we will see an even greater recovery, with the economy back to normal. This will be backed up by Expo 2020, which is finally slated to happen in October. We are seeing this already happening on different levels. For example, we are seeing many delegations coming from around the world to survey their expo sites. People are excited to be able to do business again. The whole world, but especially the private sector, has been on hold for almost a year and a half. People are eager to get back to business and start investing, moving money around the world once again.