SME & YOU

UAE, Dubai 2012 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Sami Al Qamzi, Director General of the Dubai Department of Economic Development, on the Dubai Strategic Plan 2015, the significance of SMEs, and investment flows.

Sami Al Qamzi
BIOGRAPHY
Sami Al Qamzi was appointed Director General of the Department of Economic Development in September 2008. Prior to this, he held the position of Director General of the Department of Finance, where he worked directly with the Ruler’s Court and Executive Council of Dubai to develop strategies for the Department of Finance. He began his professional career with the Central Military Command of the UAE in 1986 in a financial administrative role. He has a BA in Economics and Accounting and is extensively involved in business and industry through his board affiliations.

What is the role of the Department of Economic Development (DED) in achieving the Dubai Strategic Plan 2015?

The aim of the Dubai Strategic Plan 2015 is to leverage the Emirate's successful economic diversification for sustainable growth and prosperity. The plan contains a common framework that integrates strategies to promote economic and social development, service excellence, and Dubai's reputation as an ideal destination to live and do business. The Economic Development Plan (EDP) focuses on strengthening the supply-side factors that have contributed to economic growth in Dubai—chiefly the Emirate's strategic location, efficient government, solid institutional framework, effective service delivery mechanisms, strong laws and regulations, superior logistics infrastructure, commitment to free trade, and openness to foreign cultures—and is a key component of the Dubai Strategic Plan 2015. In line with our mandate to support economic policy and planning in Dubai, DED works in collaboration with a wide spectrum of stakeholders from the public and private sectors to ensure that Dubai retains its strong economic performance, leadership, and competitiveness. Ongoing global economic changes also make it necessary to regularly revisit the Dubai Strategic Plan 2015 in order to safeguard our past achievements and define a non-inflationary, sustainable growth path for the Emirate.

Why is the development of SMEs so important in Dubai?

SMEs are the backbone of Dubai's economy. In total, they account for 95% of the enterprise population, 42% of the workforce, and 40% of annual GDP in Dubai. Empowering these SMEs with knowledge and resources will eventually enable Dubai's economy to be driven by innovation, technology, and high productivity. Our SME strategy focuses on enabling SMEs in Dubai to move to the next level of growth and compete on a global level through better access to capital and government incentives. Dubai SME is a DED agency that is dedicated to implementing this strategy. The agency works with every stakeholder involved in SME development, boosting the entrepreneurial environment in Dubai, building partnerships for SME growth, encouraging innovative start-ups, and grooming promising SMEs. Most recently, Dubai SME announced the “Dubai SME 100," a first-ever ranking initiative aimed to identify the top-performing SMEs in Dubai and enable them to grow. Dubai SME also organized the first Conference on Corporate Governance for SMEs and announced the landmark Code of Corporate Governance in 2011. Both the conference and the code are aimed at educating SMEs on the need to bring in efficient governance practices and transparency, thereby making them more attractive for financial and talent capital. Dubai SME places special emphasis on identifying entrepreneurial talent at a very early age and translating it into successful enterprises. The annual Young Entrepreneur Competition (YEC) is currently in its eighth cycle. The contest promotes entrepreneurial spirit among students in public and private secondary schools and universities across the UAE. In addition, Dubai SME instituted the Young Business Leaders (YBL) award, which honors successful entrepreneurs for their innovations and exemplary leadership. Finally, the government has also developed a Government Procurement Program (GPP) that enables member SMEs to supply 5% of the procurement requirements of Dubai government entities.

Have you witnessed any new trends in Business Registration and Licensing (BRL) applications in 2012? Are you seeing increased interest from any nearby markets?

Investment inflows and business activity in Dubai have continued to grow, despite the challenging global economic climate. We have seen robust activity across key economic sectors throughout 2011. DED issued 14,360 business licenses in 2011, with the professional services sector accounting for the largest share at 7%. The services sector is also reflecting admirable growth and diversity along the lines of the developed world. Tourism accounted for the second-largest share of licenses issued in 2011. General trade led the list of the top 10 licensed activities in the commercial category, with 1,799 licenses, compared to 1,543 in 2010. Among the top 10 nationalities to which licenses were issued in 2011, citizens of the UK were on top, followed by Saudi Arabians, Indians, and Bahrainis, in that order. The licensing trends clearly indicate that the current economic situation in Dubai and future prospects are promising at both the overall macroeconomic and sectorial levels.

What is the focus of the new Center for the Amicable Settlement of Disputes?

The Center for the Amicable Settlement of Disputes was set up by DED in cooperation with the Dubai Courts, as a one-stop shop for quick and cost-effective settlements for businesspeople and investors. The center will have offices where legal suits can be filed, as well as judges specialized in dispute settlement and a group of experienced and qualified arbitrators. The center was established following a study submitted by Dubai SME, which revealed the necessity for an investment environment that meets the needs of SME owners and allows for faster and affordable dispute settlement. DED decided to extend the new approach to all businesses, given its wider relevance. The center will enable speedier and affordable dispute settlement, compared to what legal firms and offices offer—without the need to resort to the court system. The initiative also reflects DED's eagerness to cooperate with governmental authorities, thereby elevating business and customer service standards in Dubai.

What are the objectives of the DED's four key agencies?

DED's mandate is to foster Dubai's economic development, and thus the decision to bring in key developmental agencies under its umbrella. Aside from Dubai SME, one of our agencies is Dubai FDI, which promotes investment opportunities, supports international investors in establishing their operations here and encourages businessmen to take advantage of our strategic location. The agency assists in the identification of sector-specific opportunities, providing connections to a network of both government and non-government partners, as well as support throughout the investment lifecycle. Another agency is Dubai Exports, which promotes exports and re-exports by creating an environment that enables local exporters and helps them establish partnerships with trade promotion agencies across the world. Dubai Exports has developed a range of value-added trade support services for UAE-based firms. These initiatives are designed to accelerate the profitable expansion of Dubai businesses in foreign markets. The final agency is the Dubai Events and Promotions Establishment (DEPE). This organization aims toward developing, promoting, facilitating, and supporting the retail and events sectors in Dubai. DEPE complements Dubai's tourism profile by highlighting the Emirate's strengths and attractiveness as a year-round destination through a variety of events, including the Dubai Shopping Festival.

What key insights have been uncovered by the quarterly business surveys?

DED has launched quarterly surveys to measure the perceptions of the business community and capture the outlook for the future. It is important for Dubai to offer the latest business updates and forecasts to support economic decision-making in the Emirate. Key trends from the surveys are collated into the Business Confidence Index, thus providing policy-makers, investors, and businesses an objective metric for planning. For example, the findings of the survey for the 4Q2011 indicated rising confidence about future revenues and profits among Dubai businesses and an increasing optimism from SMEs and exporting firms. Over 67% of the survey participants said that they expect an improvement of up to 10 percentage points in sales during the first quarter of 2012, compared to 4Q2011. While 39% of the companies said their profits are likely to remain stable, 44% saw 1Q2012 bringing higher profits. The survey also indicated robust activity across the trade, logistics, and transportation sectors, which are the chief drivers of growth in Dubai. Nearly 30% of the companies surveyed reported that they will increase the size of their workforce, with manufacturing and service firms expressing the strongest interest in hiring. Overall, a progressive build-up of dynamism and confidence is visible across our key sectors, which demonstrates that 2012 will energize growth in Dubai. However, we will continue to closely monitor business sentiments and plans in order to apply corrective actions if and when needed. We firmly believe that these quarterly business surveys are very useful for the business community as a whole.