Dubai is increasingly gaining recognition as a world-leading business centre and trading hub, but much still needs to be achieved. H.E. Hani Al Hamli, Secretary General at the Dubai Economic Council, talks about the important role this organisation is playing in promoting the UAE’s economic agenda, and how ECA support is vital to achieving this.
Q: Why was the Dubai Economic Council (DEC) set up, and how important a role does it want to play in improving Dubai’s economic competitiveness across the world?
A: Since its inception in 2003, DEC has focused its resources on becoming the strategic partner of the government of Dubai in economic policy-making. This involves providing policy recommendations and critical initiatives to the government, based on research and dialogue with the public and private sectors, as well as academics.
As Dubai’s position in the global economy has gained momentum, DEC has evolved to accompany the growing needs of both Dubai and the UAE as a whole – a role which is shaped by a set of mandates from which our vision, mission and strategic objectives are drawn.
Our main objective is to advise the government on economic strategies which will help promote the business environment, improve productivity and enhance investment opportunities.
This involves encouraging the private sector to contribute to the economic development of the emirate through discussions on economic policies and strategies and by us offering advice.
However, although DEC’s main role is to act as a ‘think tank’ for the government, it also has an important mandate to promote Dubai’s competitiveness on the world stage. We are mainly an advisory entity, but within this capacity have been charged with promoting economic activity and trading relationships across the UAE as well as our relationships with other trading partners in other parts of the world.
This involves making suggestions on policies and agendas that will strengthen our trading connections worldwide with a view to increasing trade volumes. We are also looking to promote and improve the structure of trading activities by, for example, promoting infrastructure development and providing guidance on steps that will help transform Dubai into a smart city.
Q: Which countries are considered Dubai’s most important trading partners today?
A: If we look at recent trends data for Dubai’s international trade, China, India, the United States (US) and the European Union (EU) are our main strategic partners. China is a key country of focus for us because Dubai is seen as a gateway for trade between China and the rest of the Middle East, as well as Africa due to its location and reputation as a key business hub. Many multinational companies are taking advantage of Dubai as a hub for their trading activities with other regions.
The United States is also a key strategic trading partner. The UAE represents one of the largest export markets in this region for US companies relative to neighbouring countries. It is, to give just one example, one of the top importers in the world of Boeing aeroplanes for its own airline businesses. We are also continuously seeking to expand our trading activities in other areas that encompass everything from traditional products up to the latest smart technologies.
The dynamics of our relationship with the US go well beyond exports, to training and coaching and the use of new technologies. Many US companies have now set up a presence in Dubai for education, training and research purposes, and all of these facilities are critical to the emirate’s development milestone.
Q: Which international institutions is DEC working with to facilitate Dubai’s economic growth and trade with the rest of the world?
A: We work with a number of multilateral organisations, including the International Monetary Fund (IMF), who we have collaborated with on a wide range of activities such as launching its flagship report – the Regional Economic Outlook (REO).
Another key relationship for us is with the World Bank, who we have worked with on both professional events and reports including recently launching its latest edition of World Development Report (WDR) 2016.
We have also established strategic partnership with the US-UAE Business Council, based in Washington, a non-profit organisation made of individuals and businesses, which was set up in 2007 to promote commerce and investment between UAE and the US. This provides an active platform that brings together large players from both the private and public sectors in both regions to discuss the strategic significance of the relationship between the US and UAE in terms of issues ranging from trade, tourism and investment opportunities to potential joint ventures.
Q: DEC recently signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the US Export-Import Bank to promote trade with the US. How will this agreement work?
A: Under the recent MoU, the main mandate for US Exim is to provide greater financial support and assistance to US exporters – especially local small-to-medium-sized companies (SMEs) – when they are exporting to the UAE. This will be achieved by promoting trade predictability, and providing trade finance and trade guarantees as well as other types of assistance, which may be non-financial.
US Exim also has a mandate to support those countries which represent major export markets for US companies, and this involves the provision of finance, guarantees and advice so that the latter can both produce and import more goods and services.
In the UAE, this part of the agreement is very specifically directed at Dubai to help companies in this emirate region finance and develop large infrastructure projects.
Q: Can you advise on the types of infrastructure projects that need support and why they are so crucial to Dubai?
A: A list of projects that need to be financed has already been drawn up and this is largely focused on the transport infrastructure in Dubai – predominantly ports and ships, but also our airports and road network. These infrastructure projects, once they go ahead, are expected to play a major role in helping to promote and increase trade between the United States and Dubai as well as Dubai’s trade with other regions.
Q: How far has the agreement with US Exim progressed?
A: At the moment, the MoU represents an understanding between DEC and US Exim, and there are few finer details. However, there have been several exchange visits between our delegates and those of US Exim in recent months, and on April 14 we received the president and chairman of the bank, Fred Hochberg, during his visit to Dubai in which we advised on our needs and also discussed the way forward.
Q: Do you have, or plan to enter, similar partnerships with ECAs in other countries – and what are the key objectives of your strategy here?
A: We have launched a critical initiative known as Global Financial Alliances, under which we state our aims to work closely with the world’s largest ECAs to ensure smooth access to finance and other related services that will boost trade, as well as help fund large infrastructure projects in Dubai.
In addition to the recent US Exim MoU, we have a strategic agreement with the China Development Bank, which dates back three years, and most recently also signed an MoU with the Italian ECA, Sace. We also have signed agreements in place with ECAs in Mexico and India.
Q: How important a role do you believe that ECAs from other regions of the world will play in facilitating economic development and international trade for the UAE and Dubai, more specifically?
A: We recognise that the involvement of ECAs will make a big difference to the way that trade deals are conducted, and that through the provision of finance, guarantees and other services, ECAs will help to boost imports. On top of this, ECAs can play a big role in helping us to finance major infrastructure projects.
Whereas Dubai has invested heavily in skyscraper buildings, towers and hotels in recent times, we are still an emerging market economy. The population is increasing rapidly and we have to play catch-up when it comes to improving our infrastructure – particularly the transport network. Infrastructure is regarded as the backbone of our economy, and we need to increase the capacity of our roads and other transport services. On top of this, there are other key pillars and goals that we are seeking to attain including transforming Dubai into a smart city.
ECAs across the world play a vital role in supporting emerging market economies, and Dubai is one of them. It has witnessed a rapidly-growing economy, and one of the big questions facing the government today is how to maintain this success story. In the past, we have been classified as an oil-producing economy but today oil accounts for only 2% of our economy, which means that we have to look at improving our infrastructure and capacity so that we can boost trade and also promote tourism. There are also several other issues that need to be given greater consideration such as the social infrastructure in relation to health, education and training.
Given all of this, working with ECAs is of strategic significance to Dubai, and will continue to be so – both at present and in the future.