Ibrahim Al Janahi, Deputy CEO, Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority (Jafza), explains why the free zone offers Chinese companies the perfect entry point for business in the region
Q: What role does Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority (Jafza) play in the Dubai economy?
A: When Jebel Ali Free Zone was launched in 1985 it was a very humble start: we had just 19 companies. Today we host around 7,000 companies from all around the world, mostly companies involved in trade and logistics, export and re-export. They are here because we offer unique services around the world’s largest man-made port, and because we offer incentives such as 100 per cent foreign ownership, zero corporation tax, and zero income tax.
Today we are one of the major elements of Dubai’s economy, and that of the UAE – Jafza accounts for around 20 per cent of foreign direct investment into the country, a huge number for a single organisation. We have lots of indirect incomes that we bring into the country, so Jafza is a real goldmine.
Q: How important is China to Dubai’s economic growth model?
A: China is the number one trade partner for Dubai and there is huge potential for us to cooperate with Chinese companies. When the One Belt One Road strategy was announced in 2014 we knew that we needed to be a part of that and contribute to that. One of the main objectives of the strategy is to penetrate markets in Africa and the Middle East, and I think Dubai is the only gateway that can meet the needs of those companies that want to go and break into those markets.
Q: How closely are you working with the Chinese to realise this dream?
A: Today we have 248 Chinese companies at Jafza, and we have another 50 [prospects] in the pipeline. There are a lot of opportunities for Chinese companies, and Jafza is the best place for them to explore these opportunities –we are very optimistic that we can achieve double-digit growth in the years to come.
People think that Jafza is only about giant companies but we have had a lot of interest from SMEs in China and we are always looking for companies with potential, companies that can start small and then grow. We also incubate smaller companies, which has proved interesting to Chinese firms as there is sometimes a concern that the language barrier will be a problem. We help them overcome that hesitation, set themselves up and then grow.