The UAE, a Solid Gold Opportunity for Investors

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

Guest Commentary

There are few places in the world with an investment climate comparable to that of the United Arab Emirates, recognised internationally for its phenomenal performance in a range of areas. Excellence is an overused word beloved of ad agencies to hype their products. But when applied to the UAE’s amazing upward trajectory, “excellence” understates the high calibre of professionalism that underpins my country’s blossoming from the desert sands into a sophisticated world leader in less than half a century.

I could not be more proud of my homeland, which either tops or is high-up on comparative country charts relating to global economic competitiveness, economic growth, empowerment of women, human development, education, infrastructure, health, security and efficient governance. No wonder that 25 percent of the world’s largest 500 corporations have chosen the Emirates as their regional headquarters!

And a real bonus to prospective investors, as well as their management and staff, is the fact that the UAE ranks 20th worldwide (above the UK, Singapore, Japan and other GCC states) on the 2015 World Happiness Report, sponsored by the United Nations. That goes to prove what we Emiratis have always said. People of different nationalities, ethnicities and faiths can live together in perfect harmony as colleagues, neighbours and friends.

The UAE is home to expatriates from over 200 countries, who have not only contributed their expertise to the economy, but have enhanced this country socially and culturally.  The UN International Organization for Peace, Care and Relief ranked the UAE first in the world for peaceful coexistence among nationalities last year.

Moreover, in 2014, the UAE was ranked first in the region for security and public order and 27th globally by the World Justice Project. In other words, the country is safe. People can stroll around at any time of the day without fear of being robbed or attacked, which very few other countries can claim.

Despite the downturn in oil prices caused by a glut, to quote HH Sheikh Mohamed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the UAE, and ruler of Dubai, “2014 was the strongest year economically for the UAE since its foundation, with a growth in Real Gross Domestic Product of 4.6 per cent and with Nominal Gross Domestic Product reaching AED 1.47 trillion”.

Indeed, the UAE has diversified its economy to the extent that it currently enjoys the most diversified economy in the Middle East and ranks 26th in the world — above Norway, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand and Russia — according to the IMD World Competitiveness Centre Index. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) agrees with that assessment, with an announcement confirming that the UAE’s budget discipline and diverse economy permits the country to weather lower oil revenues.

In almost every sector, the UAE is forging ahead of its competitors. Tourism was up by 20 percent during the first four months of 2015 and, correspondingly, hotels benefitted from higher occupancy. First time visitors to the Emirates are always bowled over by the wealth of entertainment, sporting, shopping, leisure and dining facilities on offer and return time and time again. In the first quarter of this year, tourist spending was up by five percent.

Also, during that same period Dubai International Airport’s passenger traffic rose by 6.5 percent. By 2020, when the emirate will host Expo2020, Dubai’s airports — Dubai International Airport and Al Maktoum International Airport — are expected to welcome 100 million passengers. Likewise Abu Dhabi International Airport is witnessing more than 15 percent passenger growth year-on-year.

The UAE’s national carriers, Emirates and Etihad Airways, are being made victims of their own success. Competing U.S. airlines Delta, United and American Airlines are feeling the pinch and falsely accuse Emirates, Etihad and Qatar Airways of receiving government subsidies, which is vehemently denied.

The property market is particularly attractive to investors in a country where there is zero capital gains tax and all property is registered. High-end property is greatly sought after and, according to Christie’s Luxury Defined 2015 report, Dubai topped all other cities worldwide for luxury second home purchases, with three-quarters of all purchases made by foreign nationals. The UK’s real estate giant Knight Frank says international buyers are increasingly drawn to Dubai as a safe haven.

The financial sector is in positive territory too, gaining 15 percent last year. The Gulf News tells us that the banking and financial services industries are on “a hiring spree.” The UAE’s Central Bank governor Mubarak Al-Mansouri says there is excess liquidity in banks and he expects that credit growth to remain robust. Banking sector assets aggregated to US $631.47 billion in 2014.

As for the retail sector, Dubai has triumphed over New York and Singapore to be nominated the second most important international shopping destination behind London by the consultancy firm CBRE. The sector is estimated to have grown by almost 33 percent over the past three years and remains a lucrative investment.

Setting up business in the UAE has never been this easy and free of red tape. Provided the required paperwork is to hand, registration can take as little as eight days. Companies which opt to operate out of the UAE’s 27 Free Zones benefit from 100 percent foreign ownership and tax exemptions.

Dubai boasts some 20 business-friendly Free Zones, several with access to ports. The latest is Dubai Design District, attracting designers and global brands — and soon to be opened is Matajircom, the world’s first e-commerce hub. Dubai is a forerunner of the practice of bringing together specialties and similar business in “villages,” such as Smart Village, Knowledge Village, Dubai Heritage Village, Media City, Dubai Healthcare City and Dubai Internet City.

Ours is a country of opportunity, encouraging entrepreneurship and new ideas, however groundbreaking or innovative they may be, such as Abu Dhabi’s Louvre, a futuristic domed structure weighing 7,000 tons that will be home to art galleries and museums. Just as futuristic is Dubai’s Marina 101 tower, a 33-storey skyscraper housing a Hard Rock Hotel and residential apartments. Both are included in CNN’s list of the World’s Most Exciting.

One of the many aspects of the UAE that impresses me deeply is the way our leaders care for those less fortunate. Last year, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) nominated the UAE as the World’s Charity Capital, setting aside 1.5 percent of its GDP to humanitarian causes.

There are no beggars in our streets and no one goes without shelter or food on the table, which cannot be said of the U.S. or Europe, where many countries are suffering from high unemployment and the effects of austerity cuts that are igniting civil unrest and fuelling xenophobia.

Just when I think that the UAE cannot possibly get any better, it does. That is because we never stop striving higher and higher. A new poll of 11,500 investors in 23 countries, published by the Franklin Templeton Global Investor Sentiment Survey, reveals that investor sentiment in the UAE is the second most confident worldwide, with 94 percent of respondents feeling assured that their targets will be met this year. That is the most powerful message to any prospective investor considering investing here, than anything I could say.

  • Middle East Policy

    Middle East Policy has been one of the world’s most cited publications on the region since its inception in 1982, and our Breaking Analysis series makes high-quality, diverse analysis available to a broader audience.

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