TBY talks to Hamad Buamin, Director General of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, on the variety of services the Chamber offers and its close relationship with government strategies and key markets.

How is the Chamber's strategy aligned with the 2012-2016 Federation of the UAE Chambers of Commerce vision?

he Dubai Chamber was established in 1965 through a decree issued by the late Ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum. He realized the important role that a chamber of commerce would play in supporting the economy, and since then the Dubai Chamber has become a major business organization in the UAE. Over the past decade, company profiles have altered dramatically and are now much more sophisticated than what they were 10 years ago. By updating and refining our products and services in line with differing business needs we have been able to attract new members and better support and protect the wider business community. Our offices are located in key commercial areas in order to make our products and services more accessible to the business community. They can be found in the Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority (JAFZA), Dubai Airport Free Zone Authority (DAFZA), and Al Awir area, as well as at the Department of Economic Development (DED), Al Twar Center, and Dubai Industrial City. Our services have also changed to become more complex as doing business becomes more sophisticated. Not only do we offer documentation services for traders, we also provide legal advice and support, business networking opportunities, and economic research to the entire business community. At the same time, we are helping companies meet international standards in sustainable business through our Center for Responsible Business, and resolve commercial disputes in an amicable way through Dubai International Arbitration Centre (DIAC). Helping our members meet best international practice is part of Dubai Chamber's strategy. Therefore, we are closely aligned with the strategy of the Federation of the UAE Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FCCI) for the 2012-2016 period. Earlier in 2012, we hosted and participated in the first workshop for the FCCI team responsible for developing the proposed new strategy. The project is important, and the Dubai Chamber will support and contribute in any way possible to accelerate the development of the strategy, which aims to develop technical and administrative policies based on best international standards.

As one of the world's top 10 business destinations, what are the factors that lend credibility to Dubai as an international business hub?

Dubai has a number of benefits for international businesses, which help attract new companies every year from all corners of the globe. These include the city's strategic location in the center of the map. Dubai offers easy access to several major consumer markets and as such is one of the world's leading re-export destinations. At the same time, Dubai offers companies a safe and stable environment to do business. The city is geared toward helping companies prosper with business-friendly laws, modern infrastructure, and a diverse and predominantly young workforce. One attraction for international businesses specifically is free zones, which are tax free and allow for full ownership and profit repatriation.

“Dubai Chamber's work is geared toward creating a favorable business environment and supporting the development of enterprises."

What products, services, and initiatives do you have in place to assist the growth of the business community in Dubai?

Dubai Chamber's work is geared toward creating a favorable business environment and supporting the development of enterprises. However, the specific initiatives that help our members expand their business include the Country Focus Briefings, which give companies an insight into potential opportunities in key markets, such as Ethiopia, Turkey, Brazil, and the Netherlands. This year we will also focus on enhancing our reputation overseas and visiting countries with which we would like to build better relations. In 1Q2012, Dubai Chamber participated in 16 events around the world in countries such as Canada, the US, Libya, Ethiopia, France, Tanzania, the UK, Belgium, and Oman to promote Dubai. We also sent three delegations, one to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, another to Surat in India, and a third to Ethiopia.

Which regions have you identified as holding significant potential?

The main markets we have identified include India and countries in the CIS, Africa, and Latin America. Dubai historically has strong ties with India and parts of Africa, and we are working hard to build stronger links with many countries, particularly in eastern Africa, by sending overseas delegations and hosting the Eastern African Community Forum in Dubai in October 2012. Meanwhile, Latin American and CIS countries are witnessing incredibly strong growth and we believe that our members could benefit from the opportunities being created in those parts of the world.

What trends have you witnessed in terms of exports and companies applying for membership?

Our members' exports and re-exports last year reached AED246 billion, which is 14.5% higher compared to 2010. This total is also higher than the peak in 2008, which was AED213 billion. This expansion demonstrates the strength of the trade sector and its importance for Dubai's economic growth. As for our membership trends, last year we added 10,092 new members, which took our total membership to over 128,000. This was a percentage increase of 8.5%, which points toward the economic growth that Dubai witnessed last year. We have seen our membership increase again to over 130,000 in 1Q2012, as more companies choose to set up in the Emirate.

What benefits will the ATA Carnet system bring to Dubai, and what motivated the initiation of the system at this stage?

The UAE began accepting ATA Carnets for goods for use at trade fairs, shows, and exhibitions on April 1, 2011. The Dubai Chamber is the national guaranteeing and issuing agency of ATA Carnets in the UAE. Known as a “passport for goods," the ATA Carnet is an international customs document that permits the duty-free and tax-free temporary import of goods for up to one year. The UAE is the first country in the GCC to implement this system, and we are encouraging our partners across the region to also adopt it. In Dubai, there are many trade shows every year, and the adoption of this system will make importing products and goods for display much simpler and more affordable. This will be a major boost for companies working in the sector. We firmly believe it will help attract more exhibitors to Dubai, which was one reason behind our motivation to use the ATA Carnet system.

What lessons were learned from the global liquidity crisis, and how far along the road to recovery would you say Dubai's economy is?

The main lesson learned was about stability. We need to move away from the boom and bust years and focus on achieving sustainable growth over a longer period. And this is not just a lesson for Dubai—this applies to every economy in the world. In terms of recovery, Dubai has come a long way. The country's key economy drivers—trade, tourism, logistics, and financial services—have bounced back to their pre-crisis levels. That is not to say we are out of the woods yet, especially considering the financial pressures that continue globally. However, we are certainly on a more even footing.

© The Business Year - May 2012