THE LONG HAUL

Sharjah 2015 | TRANSPORT | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to HE Sheikh Khaled Bin Abdullah Bin Sultan Al Qasimi, Chairman of the Department of Seaports and Customs, Sharjah International Airport Freezone & Hamriyah Free Zone Authority, on the growing cargo volume over the past year and the potential of the logistics sector.

HE Sheikh Khaled Bin Abdullah Bin Sultan Al Qasimi
BIOGRAPHY
HE Sheikh Khaled Bin Abdullah Bin Sultan Al Qasimi is the Chairman of the Department of Seaports and Customs, Sharjah International Airport Freezone & Hamriyah Free Zone Authority.

In 2014, Sharjah ports handled an increase in container volume. What strategic advantages are behind the ongoing growth of container volumes at Sharjah's ports?

It was the foresight and vision of HH Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi that paved the way to establishing the first container terminal in the Middle East in Sharjah Port Khalid as early as the early 1980s to cater to the growing needs of a young nation, while containerization itself was in its infancy. While the main thrust of Sharjah's container volume shifted to Port Khorfakkan, Sharjah Container Terminal continued to play its part as an important container gateway and has increased its throughput consistently over the years. It is now a well-established fact that Sharjah is the industrial hub of the UAE. Add to this our customer-centric approach in facilitating documentation and the smooth clearance of goods through customs, combined with the proximity of the port of Sharjah and Inland Container Depot to their facilities, and it becomes clear that the Emirate is strategically advantageous for both our clients and the port. This fuels the growth of our cargo throughput at our ports.

Sharjah's well-diversified economy has recorded strong GDP growth from 2001 to 2014. How would you describe the role of the Department of Seaports and Customs as a driver of the economic development of Sharjah?

It has been the vision of HH the Ruler of Sharjah to diversify the economy of Sharjah across several sectors so as not to be skewed into a few areas. His Highness was at the forefront of developing the port infrastructure and has been keen to invest in facilities at our ports ahead of demand. Our ports serve as a gateway for businesses to access international markets for suppliers and buyers alike. The connectivity offered by our ports allows for a wider market for producers. Our facilities offer increased choice and quality for businesses, making us a facilitator of trade. There are a great deal of services and industries related to ports that benefit from our port facilities, such as road haulage, ship repair, ship handling, ship agencies, freight forwarders, and logistics service providers to name a few, and this offers a multiplier effect on the economy. My department is a primary facilitator of trade and plays a pivotal role as a driver of economic development in Sharjah in particular and the UAE in general, thus spurring the state's GDP to greater heights.

Shurooq has estimated that Sharjah's transport and logistics sector will have a market potential of AED3.43 billion in 2020. How would you describe the importance of Sharjah's seaports and free zones in achieving this potential?

Sharjah is home to three deep-water ports. Each of our ports is unique in offering a distinct advantage. Port Khalid is located in the heart of the city and close to the industrial heartland of the UAE, providing the vital service of being the gateway to international markets. Hamriyah Port is located within the fast-growing Hamriyah Free Zone, which houses large and medium size industries. The port benefits and serves the need of not just companies within the Free Zone, but also of industries located in the other Northern Emirates, generating cargo traffic for our ports through its ideal location and deep-water facility. The inner harbor in Hamriyah Free Zone is a bustling hub of offshore support activities, and several related industries prosper from the activities of the offshore oil and gas sector. Khorfakkan Port, which is strategically located on the east coast of the UAE, makes Sharjah the only Emirate to have ports on both the coasts of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. We have room to increase facilities within our three ports and, based on a market study that is currently being undertaken, appropriate steps will be taken to meet future growth in cargo volumes. With the increased activity in Sharjah's seaports and also our airport, the transport and logistics sector will receive the necessary leg up to achieve the targeted GDP growth.

How do you assess the opportunities for foreign investors to invest in Sharjah's port infrastructure and logistics network in order to sustain and increase the current volumes of marine freight?

We are an open and free economy and FDI is encouraged across all sectors in order to improve the competitiveness of the Emirate and its economy, and port infrastructure is no exception. When port infrastructure projects come up for development—and this is based on projected demands—it is done through a process where international firms that have the expertise are open to participate. With regard to setting up a logistics network, we are among the freest markets and anyone can open a logistics company under the framework of UAE laws. There are no barriers to investing in the logistics and transport sector apart from maintaining standards with regard to safety and confirming with UAE laws.

What are your department's expectations for the coming year?

The port industry is based on derived demand, so we are fully dependent on the macro-economic situation in the country. There are several factors that make us believe that the coming year will be one of steady growth for us. We are aware of the need to be efficient and priced right while offering top-notch service to our customers, who have ample choice within the UAE, and we are doing what is necessary to make our facilities cutting edge and competitive. The Free Zones of Hamriyah and Sharjah Airport are constantly growing, and with our ports as a natural choice for their cargo movement we expect enhanced demand for the usage of our facilities. All of this bodes well for the growth of our port. We continue to strive to make our ports the preferred choice of our customers.