How would you assess 2018, and what recent market trends and changes have affected Sharjah's exports?
2018 was a significant year of numerous challenges based on global fluctuations in the market. When the world suffers from downturns, it can make the business climate unpredictable and difficult to manage. Nevertheless, we achieved the same export level in terms of value to both established and new markets, especially in East Africa. We also have important clients in Central Africa. The food and beverage sectors in these locations are showing considerable export potential, and we are determined to make our mark. In certain areas, there was some export decline, but these were often counterbalanced by increased demand elsewhere. We are happy with what we have achieved in 2018 and optimistic for 2019.
Could you tell us about recent projects or developments that the SEDC is involved in?
One major goal is enhancing exporter capability, in terms of manufacturing and technology. We need to ensure that products meet EU standards and regulations in order to export to that market. Recently, we have been working on joint products for export to several European countries, mainly plastics and lubricants. We are optimistic about the center's performance, once it is finalized and working. We hope it will help manufacturers both in Sharjah and across the UAE, and will, therefore, become a regional presence.
What are your main goals for 2019?
East Africa is the main market we are currently targeting, and we have been focused on it since 2015. After our market assessment of 2014, we discovered that several products could be exported, such as electromechanical items. Since then, we have sent various delegations into the region, the last featuring over 30 companies, confirming the scale of our operations there. Furthermore, we are hosting a buyer program whereby many buyers from East Africa visit the Sharjah market first-hand and buy from us. A key challenge we have to overcome is the shipping costs and dealing with custom regulations that differ depending on the country we are exporting to. There is no other retail businesses like our company in Sharjah. We had seen growth of 3% by the end of 2018, and this hopefully will foreshadow further positive results. While we are focused on East Africa, we are evaluating other countries and markets, especially in Central Africa, where we would engage with the same industries as before. We are considering doing business in Nigeria in 2019. We want to put in place a five-year plan for this and other markets.