Windows of Opportunity: Vision speaks to UAE Minister of Foreign Trade HE Sheikha Lubna

Ahead of the Annual Investment Meeting (AIM)  in Dubai, Her Excellency Sheikha Lubna Bint Khalid Al Qasimi, UAE Minister of Foreign Trade, and AIM host, spoke exclusively to about the quietly shifting trade patterns that will be a key talking point at this year’s event

Q: First of all, Your Excellency, we would like to thank you for taking time out to talk to Vision magazine.

A: Thank you for this great opportunity to share with Vision magazine the gist of the impetus behind the Annual Investment Meeting and its significance for our nation and the international players who see in this event a strategic and timely point of convergence.

Q: We are living in times of rapid change on many levels, but one of the changes that fails to capture headlines is the quiet shifting of global trade patterns – an area that will be explored as part of the upcoming AIM conference. We are now witnessing the most rapid growth in trade ties among emerging (‘South-South’) markets and developing economies in history. What is the global significance of this development?

A: Globalisation has been an ongoing process for the past 30 years, extending trade and economic ties beyond continents, regional boundaries and cultural settings. The advent of globalisation facilitated a continuous transfer of knowledge that enabled developmental transformations in the least advanced countries. Incremental policy changes, coupled with the establishment of more sustainable economic strategies, translated into the development of today’s economic landscape.

We witnessed the ascent to economic prominence of the ‘Dragons’, the emergence of the BRICS, and before the end of this decade there will be new acronyms to identify the countries with exceptionally high growth rates. Globalisation has also redefined the general perception of countries previously characterised by the significant imbalance of their growth strategies.

Globalisation facilitated a continuous transfer of knowledge that enabled developmental transformations in the least advanced countries’

Her Excellency Sheikha Lubna Bint Khalid Al Qasimi, UAE Minister of Foreign Trade

With globalisation – the very essence of the ‘North-South Trade’ – a contextual idiom has, undoubtedly, become obsolete. Reasoning in terms of ‘South-South Trade’ to emphasise the regional economic integration and the constitution of trade blocs outside the Eurozone and North America limits the actual scope and objectives of the economic, trade and investment policies devised decades ago by leaders who anticipated the mutual benefits of creating avenues for new trade routes and partners.

The United Arab Emirates has been blessed with multiple attributes: leadership, latitude and leverage. The leadership of His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, (MHRP) the late Ruler of our country, crafted our future around one key objective: diversifying our reach. We have risen in 30 years to the ranks of the world’s 25th most sought-after host economies with phenomenal foreign direct investment incentives to attract and retain foreign capital holders.

Q: Which international markets are most likely to benefit?

A: Globalisation benefits countries equipped with a set of policies or incentives designed to maintain exponential economic growth, increasing trade flows, and exceeding quantitative infrastructural advancement while committing to qualitative socio-developmental transformation to meet demographic surges. The creation of integrated economic, trade and investment hubs enhances both individual and regional strengths while driving countries to either recalibrate their overall strategic development plan or further demonstrate capability to deliver outstanding economic performances.

Q: And how do you see the UAE’s role in both facilitating and benefiting from this quiet but historic shift in trade patterns?

A: Our strategic location across the New Silk Road has facilitated our positioning as a regional trade hub for Asia, Europe and Africa. In a globalised economy and in the context of the race for global competitiveness and trade and investment attractiveness, our geographic location remains a valuable asset.

However, there was a need to create additional incentives and utilise a more proactive approach to maintain our prolific trade hub status.

Q: There is much talk in investment circles about emerging or frontier markets. Many of the markets described were once leaders of the global economy, particularly those in the Arab and Muslim world? In some senses, these are actually re-emerging markets.

A: It is important to realign the context of Arab countries’ growth with history and the discovery of minerals or fossil fuels (oil, gas…).  These circumstances have leveraged our vantage point in our trade negotiations. However it does not define the nature and status of Arab countries as re-emerging countries.

Q: How do you envision the UAE’s role in helping to spur an economic re-emergence of countries in the broader Muslim world that were once the dominant locus of world trade?

A: The United Arab Emirates does not single-handedly define the economic fate of Arab countries, as our economic models, natural resources and strategic development policies, while comparable, do not rely on identical drivers. Our collective economic achievements are meant to support the long-term sustainability of the region as a whole.

Q: What areas or regions of the world seem most promising to you as a source/destination for investment and trade for the UAE?

A: We have enhanced our economic and trade partnerships with European nations, particularly in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as in Latin America. ASEAN countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam…), India, China, Russia, South America and Africa are regions with which we are increasing trade and economic cooperation relationships. However, the challenge lying ahead is not about identifying the most promising market but rather keeping up and growing our existing relationships while creating qualitative opportunities with new partners.

Q: Last year’s AIM conference fostered millions of dollars in trade transactions. Do you anticipate similar volumes/success this year and can you highlight the international markets that are ripe for investment?

A: AIM has confirmed the participation of more than 45 countries – 15 from Africa, four from GCC, five from South America, five from Europe, six from CIS and Russia and 10 from Asia and China. These numbers offer an interesting outlook at the prospective volume of transaction.

The projects presented at the exhibition or during the country presentations include multi-million-dollar investable agribusiness prospects in South America, a hydraulic dam over the Nile, health tourism options in Cyprus, luxurious hospitality developments in Martinique, oil, gas and mining opportunities in Russia, Gabon and Ghana, fertilising and waste-management initiatives in Namibia, port infrastructure in Burundi, transportation infrastructure projects in Venezuela, merger and acquisition in the aviation sector in Azerbaijan, industrial and manufacturing prospects in South Korea and Indonesia… and much more.

Q: How important is AIM in helping foster foreign direct investment and what is the significance of the event being held in the UAE along the new Silk Road?

A: The Silk Road has heavily contributed to transforming the nature of our economy. We are now a strategic re-exportation hub, the gateway to the Middle East market as well as a knowledge-based economy in construction. The Silk Road symbolises the milestones we accomplished as a trading nation over the past centuries; however, we are compelled to reach beyond our natural geographic boundaries. Opening reciprocal trading avenues with Argentina, Brazil or Venezuela means that we are multiplying our windows of opportunities and enriching our perspective beyond the Silk Road.

Q: This year’s AIM event aims to offer practical advice for countries to rethink their strategies and ground their investment promotion on core corporate principles and corporate governance. Does this represent the next stage of the intra-emerging trade dynamic? 

A: Promoting a country’s assets and potential as well as investment opportunities should include a more realistic assessment of the actual prospects, a comprehensive outline of the sovereign risks and challenges, a figure and fact-checked evaluation of all public-private partnership prospects, project financing options and, finally, a reliable roadmap for investors with sizeable ROI. An investor needs to hear a relatable step-by-step roadmap for investment opportunities in a designated destination for him to visualise on the spot or after a 30-minute presentation the exact roll-out of his investment plan with an overview of the investment climate, a decisive focus of his return on investment, a clear understanding of the risks associated and administrative/legal procedures, a medium and long-term plan, and an option for an exit strategy. The implementation of innovative investment or trade promotion strategies is not restricted to emerging markets. The reliability of FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) made it the most favoured tool to finance development in transitioning, developing, high-growth economies as well as in industrialised countries.

Q: You said in a recent speech that “the benefits of foreign trade for our region are not just economic in nature; energetic trade has helped us strengthen our relationships with the global community, push ourselves to technological and infrastructural growth; broaden the participation of women in business, and diversify the types of employment available to our citizens. All in all, foreign trade has had a profound impact on the fortunes and the way of life of the peoples of the Middle East”. As you gear up to host the AIM conference, this is a vital point because it is a reminder that this is not just about dry economics, but the betterment of human lives. Do you think this view is shared by your colleagues, and do you think these kinds of conferences should also focus on broader sustainable development issues?  

A: The Annual Investment Meeting is indeed a business and economic platform for the private and the public sector. We discuss economics to identify the best policies and strategies to provide our citizens with a safe, sound and sustainable environment and living standard.

Q: Trading relations between Brazil and the UAE are burgeoning, bolstered by new Emirates Airline routes to Rio de Janeiro. In what ways are bilateral relations between these two nations set to grow and develop in the future?

A: The visit of Fernando Pimentel, Brazilian Minister of Trade and Industry, last February marked a strategic milestone for the economic relations between Brazil and the UAE. HE Fernando Pimentel not only recognised the role of the UAE in global trade, he also reaffirmed his country’s keenness to develop cooperation plans with the UAE and a willingness to invest in our country. With over 403.5 billions of dollars invested by the Brazilian government in infrastructure project development to create facilities in key growth sectors, we are confident that the UAE will highly benefit from the opportunities arising from these developments. Our nation’s flagship maritime development and investment company DP World has made substantial investments in Brazil and the first phase of Embraport (Empresa Brasileira de Terminais Portuários ), a maritime terminal operator. The largest Brazilian private multi-modal port terminal development in São Paulo, will be completed in 2013.

• AIM, supported by Vision magazine, takes place 1-3 May.