TBY talks to Mohamed Al Musharrkh, CEO of Sharjah FDI Office (Invest in Sharjah), on FDI in the UAE, the role of free zones, and the Sharjah Investors Center.

The UAE is ranked 12th globally in terms of FDI between 2017 and 2019. What contributed to its high position in global FDI rankings?

The UAE maintains continuous efforts to ease the process of setting up and doing business. As a nation, we have relentlessly sought to improve procedures to access credit locally, reduce bureaucratic interruptions, and launch processes that improve transparency. Such meticulous strategies have contributed to our high position in the global FDI rankings and will continue to do so. Sharjah seeks to become the SME and start-up capital of the region. The SME segment currently contributes 60% of the nation's federal non-oil GDP, a figure that the UAE Ministry of Economy wants to raise to 70% by 2021 through diversifying into new and innovative sectors. More importantly, our leadership is issuing numerous new initiatives and regulations to support the growth of foreign investments across several sectors across the UAE. The UAE President, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, has announced the immediate effect of the game-changing UAE investment law, which aims to promote and develop the country's investment environment. The new law will consolidate the country's investment promotion agencies (IPA) and is expected to attract increased FDI in line with national development policies. FDI inflows in the UAE were valued at USD11 billion in 2017, accounting for 22% of total flow to the Middle East and North Africa region.

How have free zones contributed to promoting this investment climate?

Sharjah's investment market is not only expanding but is also highly diversified, and the opportunities behind communicating and promoting such economic benefits provide a wide range of possibilities. State entities are still encouraged to create innovations and solutions to further promote the existing and growing investment potential of Sharjah, such as establishing free zones for businesses. In 2017, the government established Sharjah Publishing City, a tax-free zone with modern infrastructure and services. This was the fourth free zone in the Emirate, after Hamriyah Free Zone, Sharjah Airport International Free zone, and Sharjah Media City. Whether it is a question of facilitation or viable investment opportunities, Sharjah is well equipped. The oil and gas sector contributes less than 6% to GDP, and no individual sector accounts for more than 20%. The four largest sectors are manufacturing at 16.9% of GDP, real estate at 13%, wholesale and retail trade at 12.8%, and financial services at 10.3%.

Sharjah has been growing ties with Asian nations, such as India and South Korea. What do such developments say about the changing focus in international relations for Sharjah?

Sharjah has always maintained a robust profile of international relations and will continue to do so. India and UAE are working together to use technology to improve government and governance, and the recent MoU further facilitates that process. Trade between India and the GCC has risen by 49% YoY over the previous decade, according to Dubai's Department of Economic Development. This was the highest growth rate among the region's major trading partners, with imports from India rising by 39%. In addition, the first Korean hospital, Sejong General Hospital, will be established in Sharjah by REI's Haewon Medical Foundation. In 2018, our office participated in three globally leading investment events in China as well, where common investment and business interests were discussed. We also organized the Sharjah-ASEAN Business Roundtable. Economic growth happens organically when nations collaborate on skills. There is a wide spectrum of technological advances occurring, and each nation offers its expertise. The only way to advance is via collaboration.

When it comes to technology, what are the latest achievements at Invest in Sharjah on this front?

The fourth edition of our business forum, “Shaping the Future of Economies," will harness developments and ideas we need to adopt during the fourth industrial revolution and critically analyze and identify leading technologies that nations such as the UAE can use to position itself at a more competitive advantage globally. Invest in Sharjah enjoys a strong research team that has studied various sectors, markets, and global economic challenges and brought together a number of different case studies on this topic. Our objective behind organizing the forum is to create and promote a global platform to address the most essential topics and challenges in our global economic markets, and to continue in positioning Sharjah as a central hub for organizing and hosting global economic conferences, summits, and expos that address a variety of topics and sectors.

Looking ahead, what else is on the agenda for Invest in Sharjah?

Invest in Sharjah will implement new integrated solutions to further improve its services to investors in Sharjah. We are currently undergoing preparations for major developments across Sharjah's business and social infrastructure. Earlier in 2018, we announced the plan to establish the Sharjah Investors Center that offers world-class services and high-end technologies, which will not only enhance economic growth but also facilitate business procedures. We will also conduct more international visits, engage in global and local partnerships, and organize international roadshows and seminars to accentuate Sharjah's potential as a prominent investment destination.