GROWTH AREAS

Sharjah 2015 | ECONOMY | FOCUS: FREE ZONES

The Hamriyah Free Zone and the Sharjah Airport International Freezone (SAIF), which have been major drivers of Sharjah's recent economic growth, are testament to the innovative approach of the government towards cultivating a vibrant business environment in the Emirate that has spurred a significant influx of companies and investment.

The double-digit GDP growth that Sharjah has enjoyed in recent years has a solid foundation in SAIF and the Hamriyah Free Zone, which have proven to be fertile grounds for economic growth as a result of their investor-friendly climates and their strategically favorable geographic locations. Developed to increase FDI into Sharjah, the free zones can rightly be marked as the Emirate's economic backbone, as over 13,000 companies have been established in both zones, and 1,000 small, medium, and heavy industries have been set up there.

The Hamriyah Free Zone, which was created by an Emiri decree on November 12, 1995, is the UAE's second-largest free zone and amongst the largest in the Middle East as it covers an area of 22 million sqm. It is predominantly geared towards heavy industries, and as such it is the largest steel zone in the UAE, as well as the second largest oil storage zone of the Emirates. A prime strategic advantage of the zone is its 14-m deep-water port, which makes it an important gateway for cargo traffic not just for Sharjah, but for the entire United Arab Emirates. The port has also attracted a significant number of offshore oil and gas related activities to the zone.

Sharjah's other free zone, SAIF, takes its name from Sharjah's International Airport, as it is conveniently located next to the airport in order to capitalize on the strategic advantages that this entails. As the first free zone in Sharjah, it is distinctively more focused on SMEs than the Hamriyah Free Zone. Over 6,700 companies across 500 industries have established themselves on the SAIF's 13 million sqm of land. In a bid to expand the SAIF zone, its Director Saud Al Mazrouei told TBY that the SAIF Free Zone Authority is looking at clustering the zone's focus through attracting companies that offer services that would complement Sharjah International Airport, such as aviation-related services, as well as businesses that handle consumer goods and cargo that would use the airport as point of entry. Furthermore, clustering different industries together will enable them to develop in tandem, and this approach is also being utilized in the Hamriyah Free Zone.

As HE Sheikh Khaled Bin Abdullah Bin Sultan Al Qasimi, Chairman of Hamriyah and SAIF free zones points out, “the free zones are constantly growing," and their future is brighter than ever. Expansion is thus on the horizon, driven by the ongoing economic growth of Sharjah and the UAE. To capitalize on this growth, the SAIF zone will undergo an addition of 3 million sqm for warehouses, road infrastructure, utilities, and office spaces, whereas the Hamriyah Free Zone will be expanded by an additional 10 million sqm to cope with expected future demand.

It is thus expected that the free zones will continue to play an integral role as drivers of economic growth and diversification in Sharjah. As the Emirate has embarked on a path towards opening its economy to the world, attracting an increased flow of FDI, and maintaining its double digit GDP growth, the free zones are vital instruments that collectively catapult it forward.