Dubai: a ‘gateway’ for China

Ahead of Dubai Week in China, His Excellency Abdulla Al Saleh, Under Secretary of the UAE Ministry of Economy for Foreign Trade and Industry Affairs, outlined the Emirates’ role in helping drive China’s development agenda

What is your mission to Shanghai for Dubai Week in China and who will you meet?

The UAE, as well as Dubai, share a very strong relationship with China, and our aim is to further strengthen this relationship by exploring new avenues of cooperation. Events such as these provide us with a platform to network and identify potential opportunities and at the same time highlight what the UAE has to offer. We will be meeting various government officials and leaders from the private sector to discuss these opportunities. We will also be exhibiting at this event, which will be an excellent chance to know first-hand what the market wants.

How will the UAE showcase its economy and the opportunities it presents in Shanghai?

We will be making some presentations to showcase our strengths and the advantages that the UAE offers, through its strategic location and a sound political, legal and economic system. We have a very eminent delegation with us, with leading officials from the Dubai Chamber, Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing (DTCM), Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC), Expo 2020 Dubai, Jafza and Jumeirah, to name a few. Our focus will be on the upcoming Expo 2020 Dubai, and the trade and logistics facilities that Dubai provides.

The opportunities that Dubai offers in the run-up to hosting the Expo 2020 Dubai, particularly in retail, tourism, hospitality and trade, are immense. The international event expects to welcome 25 million visitors, nearly all of who will come from outside the UAE.

We believe the private sector is the bedrock of economic growth and we strive to provide businesses the chance to network and connect on a one-on-one basis and take the first step towards building a successful relationship. To add to this, the UAE plays a critical role as an investment and trade hub along the New Silk Road with strategic access to the Middle East, Africa and South Asian (MEASA) markets, estimated to have a combined GDP of US$7.8tn.

The UAE is a pioneer of the free trade zone model and 20 are already established in Dubai. For the development of the FTZ in Shanghai, what can Shanghai learn from Dubai?

The UAE and Dubai have been very cognisant of the importance of diversification, and the free trade zones have been an important cog in this wheel. The free zones contribute to more than 50 per cent of the trade and have maintained a strong link to the main economy. It is also essential to ensure that the free zones are based in a strategic location to ensure efficiency in cost and time. We have also consciously worked towards covering various sectors, such as technology, finance, education and health, which has led to a holistic growth of the economy.

We provide incentives to firms to set up in the free zones and the process is extremely simple and cost-effective and offers best practices in terms of ownership and regulations. We have also provided a right mix of services and support outside the free zones, in terms of logistics and accessibility, which makes us a “one-stop-shop” for businesses and spurs trade.

You should be able to identify the opportunities and then work towards providing a conducive environment for that sector to grow, with high productivity, strategic location and the infrastructure to support the business. This is what we have done in Dubai. Cementing our leadership in the sector, the UAE has established the World Free Zones Organization to bring all free zones under one roof.

The number of Chinese enterprises operating in the UAE has increased from 18 in 2005 to more than 4,200 (of which 2,000 have joined the Dubai Chamber). Dubai Chamber is going to set up an office in Shanghai – can it play a catalytic role in economic and trade exchange?

Absolutely – there is no doubt about it. As I mentioned earlier, the importance of the private sector and B2B relationships cannot be underestimated. As you rightly said, out of the 4,200 companies, 1,775 Chinese member companies are currently registered with Dubai Chamber.

The Chamber has been very active in identifying markets and opportunities, and with China being Dubai’s top trading partner I think the decision to set up an office in Shanghai is a step in the right direction.

Dubai can be the gateway for China, as it further explores the markets of Africa and India.  Dubai’s strategic location, coupled with China’s potential in the manufacturing sector, is a perfect combination for promoting trade and investment linkages – something that the Chamber is aware of – and this office will only reinforce the Chamber’s commitment to take bilateral trade and investment to a higher level.

Can you tell us more about the UAE’s significance in the Belt and Road Initiative and what are the areas of opportunity?

Dubai has embraced China’s Belt and Road initiative, which aims to strengthen trade and investment infrastructure along both the land route from China through Central Asia to the Middle East, Africa and Europe, as well as the maritime routes from China through Southeast Asia and South Asia. Dubai is becoming the epicentre of the new Silk Road that links East Asia and South Asia. In fact, Dubai is extending this link further to Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa.

UAE and Dubai, we believe, can be the vantage point for the integration of the Middle Eastern economies into China and Central Asia’s global supply chain. Given its location, international connectivity, growing linkages to Africa and the quality and efficiency of its infrastructure, Dubai is an ideal nodal point for trade between Asia and Africa.

We must also remember that the UAE is located along ‘China-Central Asia-West Asia economic Corridor’ that passes through the CIS region, one of the priority investment and trade regions. With China relocating plenty of companies on the Belt and Road Initiative, it has brightened up prospects in the fields of infrastructure development, and industries such as iron and steel, software development, and garments, to name a few.

'UAE and Dubai, we believe, can be the vantage point for the integration of the Middle Eastern economies into China and Central Asia’s global supply chain'

His Excellency Abdulla Al Saleh, UAE Ministry of Economy for Foreign Trade and Industry Affairs

What is the significance of the UAE’s role as a founding member of the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB)?

As you know, the UAE is one of 57 initial members and we appreciate China's foresight in establishing first-of-a-kind lending institution, in which developing nations will have majority voting rights. Keeping in mind the strong and ever-growing relationship between the UAE and China and our mutual intention to further fuel this growth through trade and investment, we believe the UAE can play a strong role in actively driving this agenda forward and also supporting China on the international platform.

Being a member of the AIIB will also give more strength and conviction to the UAE’s voice on international and regional platforms and help us promote and push forward projects that are critical to the development of our economies.

What role could China have to play in the continued development of UAE infrastructure projects – especially as the nation prepares for Expo 2020 Dubai?

China is the UAE’s second largest trading partner and the top trading partner for Dubai – so without a doubt China has a very important role to play in the UAE’s infrastructure development. With the growing number of Chinese companies as well as Chinese nationals living in the country, we see a strong trade and investment linkage between the two nations.

In 2015, during the visit of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, to China, both sides agreed to set up a joint fund worth US$10bn with two Chinese state institutions. Mubadala, Abu Dhabi’s strategic investment company, will manage the UAE-China Joint Investment Cooperation Fund with China Development Bank Capital and China’s State Administration of Foreign Exchange.

This fund will also play a critical role in supporting the Belt and Road initiative as we work towards improving connectivity and cooperation with our regional partners across Eurasia. This in turn will impact the Expo 2020 Dubai positively, with more flow of tourists, and more business looking into Dubai.

There is no denying that Chinese companies have considerable experience in various fields, and we will seek to employ these experiences in the implementation of mega-development projects including those involved in Expo 2020 Dubai.