FORTIFYING FOUNDATIONS

Ras Al Khaimah 2017 | DIPLOMACY | VIP INTERVIEW

H.H. Sheikh Mohammed is the eldest son of H.H. Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah. Born in 1987, he studied at UCLA, graduating in Political Science. Appointed Crown Prince by his father in 2010, he combines those duties with the chairmanships of the government's Investment & Development Office, and Al Hamra Group. He is also a board director of RAK Gas, and the former chairman of RAK Ceramics.

RAK is experiencing strong growth both in the tourism and manufacturing/industrial sectors, driven by significant levels of foreign investment. What are the key factors that make RAK an attractive destination for foreign capital?

First and foremost, Ras Al Khaimah has a long history of both political stability and social harmony, accompanied by a track record of policy consistency guided by the principles of economic openness, modernization, and diversification. These are vital because they provide fundamental building blocks for development and prosperity, and are the first things foreign investors examine when they choose a location for their business. We continue to build upon these intrinsic strengths of the Emirate by offering an attractive investor-friendly environment with rule of law, no taxes, and an easily navigable administrative system. The World Bank Doing Business study, published in October 2016, ranked the UAE the 26th most business friendly place in the world out of 190 countries surveyed, well ahead of all other GCC countries. This is a testimony to the success of our ongoing efforts to create the best physical and legal infrastructure for industries of all kinds to thrive in this Emirate.

Looking ahead, from where do you see potential future FDI into RAK coming?

Given our geographical location and fundamental institutional strengths we are uniquely positioned to take advantage of investment inflows from the advanced economies of Europe, US, Japan, the Republic of Korea, as well as from emerging markets in Africa. We continue to diversify the economy, and are conscious of the necessity of having a diversified pool of investors. From our point of view, Asia is under-represented in the Emirate and through more highly targeted awareness campaigns we can attract more firms from Japan, China, and the Republic of Korea.

There is a high ratio of expatriate workforce in all major sectors of RAK's economy. How does the Emirate ensure that young Emiratis are given the opportunity to engage in RAK's economic growth?

RAK's economic growth and development is all-inclusive, but at the same time we pay close attention to the needs and conditions of our young population. Education is the key element of our strategy to empower local young people. We have several programs aimed at developing entrepreneurship and raising the level of technical skills, which complements our initiative to develop SMEs. Over the past ten years a number of educational institutions have been established here, such as AURAK and RAKMHSU, and having these institutions here enables local students to obtain tertiary education in a number of disciplines at an affordable price without having to leave the Emirate.

The rating agencies give RAK an 'A' level with a 'stable' outlook. From RAK's perspective, which fundamentals need to be focused on for a higher rating?

The sovereign rating assigned to us by Fitch Ratings and S&P give due recognition to our many credit strengths; political stability, ease of doing business, track record of fiscal prudence, and a low and declining debt and interest burden. Where we need to improve is in the provision of macroeconomic data needed for economic analysis and forecasting. This coincides with the UAE's push for more accurate and wide-ranging work on big data. We need to be able to provide robust and credible statistics about the Emirate, and to do that we need to overcome some institutional deficiencies in our data gathering and analysis. We are well on the way to accomplishing that with the establishment in July 2016 of the RAK Statistics and Studies Center. To strengthen our statistical capability, we also need to improve governance, especially as it pertains to the management of state owned enterprises (SOEs). We have a large number of SOEs, which provide the majority of the Emirate's revenues, and we need to improve policies, processes, and transparency in order to have better oversight over these entities and expand their level of efficiency.