INDUSTRIAL MANUFACTURING ALMOST 26% OF GDP

Ras Al Khaimah 2018 | ECONOMY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Sheikh Ahmed bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Chairman of Ras Al Khaimah Economic Zone (RAKEZ), on the merging of RAKIA and RAK FTZ, economic diversification, and re-exporting from the emirate.

What were the reasons for joining RAKIA and RAK FTZ under one single organization?

The United Arab Emirates is growing at 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 RAK Free Trade Zone (RAK FTZ) and RAK Investment Authority's (RAKIA) joining was to revolutionise Ras Al Khaimah's investment landscape and support the emirate's vision of attracing more investments. The move has brought a major impact in the emirate as it 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. So with the two under the umbrella of Ras Al Khaimah Economic Zone (RAKEZ), we now have a powerhouse economic zone that is very comprehensive as it 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, just recently, we 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. Having all of these in one location helps in the easy and efficient facilitation of processes. For example, if an owner needs a permit from the Civil Defense and wants to apply for membership with the Chamber of Commerce, he or she can accomplish both in one location. We're all about finding ways for our investors to spend less time and efforts doing administrative tasks so they can focus on running their businesses.

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

I wouldn't say they are challenges but more 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. So, 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. We have also added an important department to our team called the Customer Experience Department. This is an arm that ensures that all complaints are sorted out either with relevant departments within RAKEZ or with other entities of the government. I can say that everything went smooth with the establishment of the new service centre as our collaboration with other governmental departments has been very efficient.

How do you envisage Ras Al Khaimah further boosting economic diversification?

For years, all of our efforts have always been towards further boosting the UAE's economic diversification. Among the reasons for the establishment of RAKEZ is actually for this very purpose. With the best of the best of RAK FTZ and RAKIA joined under RAKEZ, Ras Al Khaimah's position as an ideal investment destination has even more solidified. Right now, we currently have over 13,000 companies from over 100 countries operating in more than 50 sectors, and I am positive that this number will double few years down the road. Of course, more investors means more sectors will boom resulting to strong economic diversification. This is especially, as I have mentioned earlier, we cater to SMEs, entrepreneurs, and industrialists. Our efforts have brought in thousands of SMEs in the emirate and this is very important. The SME community is the backbone of the economy, a strong driving force to enhancing a country's productivity and growth rate as they attract new consumers and new investments. We nurture them by offering cost-effective facilities such as Flexi facilities and offices as well as Easy Payment Plan to help setting up and running a business more manageable. On the other hand, the leadership of the Emirate encourages us to attract anchor industrial tenants because industrial manufacturing represents almost 26% of the GDP. 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 very cost-effective. Plus, we are only one hour away from Dubai International Airport, and within a four-hour flight to 30% of the world's population. In terms of logistics, we have seaports, an airport and multilane superhighways. Just recently, Saqr Port has signed with Hutchison Ports to be the new terminal operator. This provides a great added value to our anchor tenants for the container terminal. So yeah, overall, I envision Ras Al Khaimah to remain a strong contributor to the UAE's diversification efforts. Especially now that renowned credit rating agencies such as Fitch Rating and S&P has issued an 'A' rating with a 'Stable Outlook' for the emirate.

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. At the same time, we encourage them to show us their feasibility so that we can advise them on the type of company they should open. We can prove that it can be more economical to set up a company with RAKEZ and export to Europe, Africa, or Asia. 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.