SOMETHING DIFFERENT

UAE 2018 | UMM AL QUWAIN | REVIEW

Umm Al Quwain is a snapshot of life in the UAE before oil, but initiatives over recent years confirm that the Emirate has plans to expand its commercial and investment base.

Umm Al Quwain is the sixth largest of the Emirates and the least populous, with a 2005 census putting the headcount at 50,000. The Emirate lies between Sharjah and Ras Al Khaimah and surrounds an idyllic lagoon. The close connection that Umm Al Quwain enjoys with the sea is reflected in the strong presence of fishing in the local economy, with seafood exported across the Middle East and Europe. Somewhat of a breadbasket, Umm Al Quwain is also the site of the UAE's first poultry farm and is a crucial supplier of poultry and dairy products to the local market. The main growth engines, however, are the Ahmed Bin Rashid Port, within which is the Ahmed Bin Rashid Free Zone, and the Umm Al Quwain Free Trade Zone (UAQ FTZ).

The Ahmed Bin Rashid Free Zone was established back in 1998 to complement the activities of the Ahmed Bin Rashid Port, which boasts 845m of quay wall, 400m of which is ready to receive ocean-going vessels. The complex also includes the best part of 120,000sqm of land earmarked for light industrial development.
In recent years, however, all eyes have been on UAQ FTZ. Beginning operations in 2014, the zone offers a fresh alternative to the over 25 free zones across the UAE. It enjoys solid connections, located just 50 minutes away from Dubai International Airport, 6km from Sharjah, and 20km from the city of Dubai itself. The UAQ FTZ is authorized to provide trade licenses and companies taking the plunge enjoy the same legal status as any inside the UAE when it comes to trade, contracts, imports, exports, visas, and banking. Its growth trajectory is positive and boosted by the advantage it offers as an economic place to run a business. UAQ FTZ companies can be 100% foreign owned, enjoy tax-free status, and can import into the zone duty free. The zone is also well hooked up, with firms able to utilize Dubai's seaports and airports for shipments, thus taking advantage of UAQ FTZ's lower costs as well as the world-class standards at Dubai's ports. Speaking with TBY, Sheikh Khalid bin Rashid Al Mu'Alla, Chairman of UAQ FTZ, gave us more insight into what makes the zone tick. “Our success has stemmed from our promise of easy access, one-to-one interactions with investors,” he said, adding that, “once word spread about our investor-friendly system, the numbers picked up and we developed our services ever further. Micro-businesses and freelancers have also come to us in good numbers because of Umm Al Quwain's reasonable cost of living and solid business opportunities.”
The zone is also well diversified, with over 850 new firms registering in 2015, and 1,500 licenses issued in 2016. “In keeping with the UAE decreasing its reliance on oil and gas, we have welcomed manufacturing industries, IT companies, and specialized consultancies as major players in the free zone,” elaborated Sheikh Mu'Alla, who added that, “FMCGs, foodstuff-related companies, gems, precious metals, jewelry, and automotive spare parts sellers also constitute a big portion of the investment portfolio chart.” Following a boom in FDI that occurred in the UAE in 2012, firms from as far away as the UK and France, as well as the Indian Subcontinent, set up shop in UAQ FTZ. The UAQ FTZ is also unique in that it offers a freelancer trade license, a reality that has helped to attract photographers, make-up artists, event planners, copywriters, and more. For this reason, the zone has been especially successful in attracting individuals from the Northern Emirates to ply their trade in Umm Al Quwain. And in late 2016, UAQ FTZ was gearing up to launch the second phase of its expansion following the completion of infrastructure works, according to Arabian Business. The new development will include home offices, labor accommodation, warehouses, and residential complexes, and is designed to allow the zone to function as an independent industrial city, with all the amenities you would expect, including a hospital, shopping centers, school, hotel, and convention center.
Tourism has also emerged as a top potential revenue earner for the Emirate, and it is easy to see why. Visitors can enjoy stunning vistas including coastal mangroves and a plethora of islands, the biggest of which, Al Sinniyah, is a veritable paradise for nature enthusiasts and home to Arabian gazelles, falcons, and turtles. But it doesn't stop there; the Emirate is also a draw for extreme sports including skydiving, is home to the UAE's largest water park, the Dreamland Aqua Park, and is popular with sailing enthusiasts. The Emirate holds archaeological significance as well, with evidence suggesting that people living along its shores were in contact with Mesopotamia as early as the 5th millennium BC. Agriculture then flourished in the Bronze Age, with dates, which the region is still well known for today, becoming the top crop. The Umm Al Quwain we know today took shape some 200 years ago, when the Al Ali tribe relocated its capital to its present location, with Sheikh Majid Al Mu'Alla establishing an independent Sheikhdom. The Emirate joined with its neighbors to establish the UAE in 1971.
To benefit from all it has to offer guests, the government is working to develop modern tourism infrastructure. In mid 2016, the authorities signed a JV with Sobha Group to construct a AED25-billion tourism resort on Al Sinniyah Island, close to the city of Umm Al Quwain. The development is set to cover 53 million sqft and include a bridge to the mainland, as well as a highway network. The project will include up to five resorts and hotels, plus an 18-hole golf course. On top of that, it will include more permanent settlement, including villa communities, apartments, a marina, and retail space, according to The National reporting. Speaking at a signing ceremony, the Crown Prince of Umm Al Quwain, Sheikh Rashid bin Saud bin Rashid Al Mua'lla, said, “We are targeting eco-tourism rather than high-rise buildings. We want to have this island-friendly feeling to the Emirate.”
But what of that modern symbol of the UAE's rise to wealth and prominence, the shopping mall? In 2016, residents were eagerly anticipating the completion of City Mall, a 9,542sqm development transforming the retail scene in Umm Al Quwain. The project has been successful in tempting in various international brands for the first time, including Starbucks, H&M, and Virgin Megastore. And it hasn't stopped there; Lulu Group International announced in late 2016 that it will invest AED2 billion in the UAE in the coming years, including malls in Umm Al Quwain, Sharjah, and Dubai. The Umm Al Quwain offering, the Mall of Umm Al Quwain, when complete, will cover 20,000sqm and boast a seven-screen cinema. It is due to open toward the end of 2017.
But Umm Al Quwain certainly isn't driving blind, with Sheikh Saud bin Rashid Al Mu'Alla, UAE Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Umm Al Quwain, having unveiled the Umm Al Quwain strategy, which identifies the key areas for growth going forward: the general economy, heritage, infrastructure, and public-sector development. The plan is in line with the objectives of the UAE Vision 2021 and is a blueprint for the Emirate to add to the growth story of the overall UAE.
All being said, Umm Al Quwain offers locals and visitors alike a window onto traditional Emirati heritage, yet embodies the drive for betterment seen across the UAE.