There are few places in the world with an investment climate comparable to that of the United Arab Emirates, recognized internationally for its phenomenal performance in a range of areas. Excellence is an overused word, loved by ad agencies to hype their products. But when applied to the UAE’s amazing upward trajectory, ‘excellence’ understates the high caliber 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 prouder 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 proves what we Emiratis have always said. People of different nationalities, ethnicities and faiths can live together in perfect harmony as colleagues, neighbors 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 U.N. International Organization for Peace, Care and Relief ranked the UAE 1st 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 seen as safe. People can stroll around at any time of the day without fear of being robbed or attacked, something which very few other countries can claim.
Despite the downturn in oil prices, 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 percent 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 in the Middle East and ranks 26th in the world according to the IMD World Competitiveness Centre Index, above Norway, Hong Kong, Australia, New Zealand and Russia. The International Monetary Fund 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.
Ours is a country of opportunity encouraging entrepreneurship and new ideas, however groundbreaking or innovative they may beKhalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor
In almost every sector, the UAE is forging ahead of its competitors. Tourism was up by 20 per cent 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 per cent.
Also, during that same period Dubai International Airport’s passenger traffic rose by 6.5 per cent, while 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 per cent passenger growth year-on-year.
The UAE’s national carriers Emirates and Etihad Airways are being made victims of their own success. Less competitive U.S. airlines, Delta, United and American Airlines are feeling the pinch and 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 per cent last year. 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 per cent 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 per cent 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 per cent of its GDP to humanitarian causes.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is witnessing an explosion of food kitchens and in Europe, 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 a message to any prospective investor considering investing here more powerful than anything I could say.
Khalaf Ahmad al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. He is Chairman of the Al Habtoor Group - one of the most successful conglomerates in the Gulf. Al Habtoor is renowned for his knowledge and views on international political affairs; his philanthropic activity; his efforts to promote peace; and he has long acted as an unofficial ambassador for his country abroad. Writing extensively on both local and international politics, he publishes regular articles in the media and has released a number of books. Al-Habtoor began his career as an employee of a local UAE construction firm and in 1970 established his own company, Al Habtoor Engineering. The UAE Federation, which united the seven emirates under the one flag for the first time, was founded in 1971 and this inspired him to undertake a series of innovative construction projects – all of which proved highly successful.