AN OCEAN FOR THE TAKING

Ras Al Khaimah 2018 | ECONOMY & FINANCE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Sheikh Ahmed bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Chairman of the Ras Al Khaimah Economic Zone (RAKEZ), on offering investors a global platform, creating a one-stop shop, and the strategic comparative advantages of access to the Indian Ocean.

Sheikh Ahmed bin Saqr Al Qasimi
BIOGRAPHY
Sheikh Ahmed bin Saqr Al Qasimi is the Chairman of RAKEZ. He oversees the operations of the three entities and manages the development of their investment activities, ensuring that they have a positive impact on diversifying the Emirate’s economy. Under his guidance, the free zones have embarked on a new success strategy. They have adopted a growth plan that focuses on further diversification of their products and services portfolio, ensuring that steady growth rates are maintained. He is also the Chairman of the Customs Department, the Saqr bin Mohammed Al Qasimi Foundation for Charity, and Falcon Technologies International (FTI). He holds a bachelor’s in international public relations from Boston.

What were the reasons for merging RAKIA and RAK FTZ?

The UAE is growing at an unprecedented rate. Investors are flocking to this side of the world to set up or expand their businesses and with this, the competition between investment hubs in the country is ever increasing. The reason behind the RAK Free Trade Zone (RAK FTZ) and the RAK Investment Authority's (RAKIA) merger was to revolutionize our investment landscape and support the Emirate's vision of attracting more investments. The move has brought a major impact and created a hub that offers a broader range of business solutions. RAKIA was successful in supporting industrial companies. On the other hand, RAK FTZ was strong in the SME segment. Hence, with the two under the umbrella of Ras Al Khaimah Economic Zone (RAKEZ), we now have a powerhouse economic zone able to cater to businesses of all sizes. We remain competitive in the market by offering global investors a platform where they can access wide-ranging premium facility options and first-class services that suit their needs. Right now, we are continuously working hard to provide our tenants a more seamless, nurturing, and transparent ecosystem by offering enhanced levels of services. In line with this, we recently launched a new one-stop shop called RAKEZ Service Centre - Al Hamra, which houses our services from A to Z. Government entities are also on-board with us in the same location for easier processing of government-related requirements.

What were the challenges in joining forces into a one-stop shop?

It is more a question of new investments. As we build a new and more comprehensive one-stop shop, we began to understand that there are areas we can improve by adding new technology and manpower. Hence, we invested a great deal in IT solutions so that our customer service team is able to provide the best support to our clients. We have implemented SAP and salesforce, as well as CRM which helps us communicate better with our customers, enhances our team's productivity, and provides solid analytical data and reporting.

How will the Emirate further boost economic diversification?

For years, all of our efforts have been toward further boosting the UAE's economic diversification. RAKEZ was established for this very purpose. With the best of the best of RAK FTZ and RAKIA merged into RAKEZ, Ras Al Khaimah's position as an ideal investment destination is even more solid. Right now, we currently have over 13,000 companies from over 100 countries operating in more than 50 sectors, and this number will double a few years down the road. More investors means more sectors will boom resulting to strong economic diversification. We cater to SMEs, entrepreneurs, and industrialists. Our efforts have brought in thousands of SMEs in the Emirate, the backbone of our economy. We nurture them by offering cost-effective facilities such as flexi facilities and offices, as well as easy payment plans to help setting up and running a business more manageable. So, we are aggressive in conducting roadshows in our core markets to approach large companies, and the number-one question of these companies is about the cost of living for their employees, which includes schooling, housing, transportation, and so on. We have proven to them that Ras Al Khaimah is cost effective.

How can industries be encouraged to set up in Ras Al Khaimah when the UAE market is not that large?

When we go on roadshows and meet with potential investors, we tell them not to do feasibility studies on Ras Al Khaimah or the UAE alone; they have to think of Africa, India, Asia, and Europe as well. For example, Ashok Leyland produces 3,000 buses a year. This is not only for the UAE market; it also exports to the GCC. Another example is Italfood, which exports 90% of its cheese to the GCC. In addition, we have Dabur International, which is a large exporter.