RegionsMiddle EastThe UAE: More Open for Business than Ever

The UAE: More Open for Business than Ever

Recent political and social unrest in North Africa and the Middle East has caused no little anxiety in the West. Mutterings about an Arab Spring that could ultimately sweep its way across the whole of the Islamic world might sound a terrifying prospect, but companies with serious ambitions to develop ‘a presence’ in the global financial marketplace, cannot afford not to be in the region, especially – most would agree -in the United Arab Emirates.

The rulers of the UAE, always mindful of the region’s status as a key player in the world of Islamic finance, have an excellent record for making it attractive location, both as a place in which doing business is easy and as a major tourism centre. This has meant that it continues to thrive, even as other Islamic countries have experienced troubled times of late.

Uprisings have damaged some nations’ fortunes, but for the UAE life goes on much as usual and its reputation as an economic epicentre continues to develop. Earlier this month, the deVere Group announced its acquisition of Dubai-based Acuma, one of
the region’s most respected advisory firms, to strengthen its position in this thriving part of the world. The development lends further weight to evidence that many international companies continue to look to the Gulf in order to extend their influence into the Middle East and beyond.

Dubai Resists Recession

Financial centres such as Abu Dhabi and Dubai have been especially effective in attracting many of the world’s leading investors and entrepreneurial expats. Apart from the obvious attractions of climate and an enviable lifestyle, there are strong business reasons why these emirates have gained a reputation for being excellent places for companies to set up operations.

Decades ago Dubai, whose economy was built upon the very solid foundations of its oil reserves, was transformed into an international service industry leader. In time it also managed to develop as one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations – no mean feat for a place that, before the oil boom, merely supported a humble desert community.

In many ways Dubai is a place of extremes – the world’s tallest buildings, the most luxurious hotels, the largest shopping malls – but naturally these serve as inducements to the world’s leading businesses which share its aspirations and wish to invest in
this politically stable region.

The UAE’s government has been instrumental in boosting the area’s popularity by establishing free zones, which offer trading licences to foreign businesses in a broad variety of categories. Owners of companies set up in free zones can benefit from full ownership, tax exemption and the use of purpose-built offices or warehouses, which make it even easier for foreign firms to set up a business there from scratch.

Early in the 2008-09 recession that hit the US and Europe, some commentators observed that Dubai, which at the time experienced the deflation of its own property bubble, might have to rely on Abu Dhabi’s petrodollars to bail it out. However,
so far concerns about Dubai’s future have proved largely unfounded.  In fact its economy is expected to provide the whole of the Gulf area with a welcome boost in 2013, so any fall-out from the global economic crisis appears to be in the past, with a further period of growth predicted for the years ahead and a return to solid consumer confidence.

An Established Funding Sector

The good news for companies and corporations thinking of opening an office or business in the UAE is that the corporate finance and funding sector is very well-established. It has considerable experience of supporting firms during the first heady years of the boom, through the more difficult times of the global recession and is now equipping new businesses for a new era of prosperity.

With its cosmopolitan reputation, large expat community (the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) ‘World Factbook’ lists Dubai’s foreign population in 2012 as approximately 85%) and space-age landscape, it was only a matter of time before the city offered itself as a location for filmmakers. In time-honoured fashion, the government is instituting a range of incentives to lure major studios to the area. Although comparatively slow to recognise the potential of the area’s visual attractions, the latest package is mooted to offer a rebate of at least 20% of costs on international film and TV productions shot in the city: Abu Dhabi’s incentive plan already offers a 30% rebate.

Jamal Al Sharif, managing director of Dubai Media City and Dubai Studio City has been named chairman of Dubai’s Film and TV Commission and pledged his commitment to raising the city’s profile in this lucrative industry. The involvement of the world’s major film and TV companies will further boost trade, tourism and business, which is already booming.

The UAE’s modest population has meant that there has, of necessity, been a great drive to expand the region’s numbers in
order to ensure its future. Massive improvements in infrastructure, the financial incentives offered by the free zones, and now a drive to lure Hollywood’s great and good, mean that the region remains a remarkably attractive place for international organisations place to do business. These strengths will only be further enhanced moving forward.

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