The Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry has been instrumental in enabling Dubai’s business sector to move forward, despite the global pandemic. As trade, tourism and innovation play an integral role in Dubai’s position as a global hub for commerce and industrialization, it is important to note that the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry has been a vital component in the success of the Emirate. Today, as Dubai has embarked on hosting the World Expo 2020, the leadership is looking at matters associated to sustainability and innovation as key aspects to drive change.
It is through this vision that the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry is operating. To build bridges with markets that bode mutual benefits and respective comparative advantages to enable greater trade and business opportunities.
Through events such as the Global Business Forum Africa 2021, the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry is building the “Dubai-Africa Bridge” to enable African companies, entrepreneurs, youth and of course countries itself to harness the benefits of a mutual partnership.
Q1. As President and CEO of Dubai Chamber, you have seen tremendous growth in Africa. The GBF Africa 2021 is the 6th Edition of the Forum that aims to build on this notion of ‘Transformation Through Trade,’ as that is the main title of GBF 2021.
- A) How is Dubai priming itself to be an attractive trade partner with Africa? What would a successful trade relationship between Dubai and Africa look like?
Africa has huge potential and has been making headlines with its outstanding performance on various global economic and business indicators for many years now. UAE investors are increasingly aware of the promising investment opportunities Africa has to offer.
His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, Ruler of Dubai, issued clear directives to build on the historical ties between the emirate and the continent and expand the scope of economic cooperation. Over the past decade, Dubai’s non-oil trade with Africa has grown exponentially to exceed $50 billion in 2020.
In an effort to further promote itself as an attractive trade partner for Africa, Dubai worked to establish trade partnerships with high-potential markets across the continent. This development came just as the UAE as a whole was also rapidly expanding its Africa ties, in parallel with the rapidly growing African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and regional integration. The UAE has invested in 71 different projects worth USD 5.64 billion, becoming the fourth-largest foreign country to invest in the African continent.
Dubai’s economic relations with Africa have already seen a lot of growth; however, there is tremendous trade and investment potential that remains untapped as African economies continue to develop and expand.
This isn’t to say that we don’t have bigger ambitions for the future. As both Dubai and Africa look forward to bright futures ahead, our main goal remains for our emirate to be Africa’s gateway to the world, and for Africa to be a land of opportunity for UAE investors.
And this is why we established the Global Business Forum (GBF) Africa – to build bridges between business communities across the UAE and Africa and showcase competitive advantages that Dubai can offer African companies that are looking to capitalise on emerging business opportunities.
GBF Africa is a key pillar of Dubai Chamber’s Africa strategy, and this year, the benefits of participating are bigger than ever, considering that the forum is taking place on the side lines of Expo 2020 Dubai, the first world expo to be held in the Middle East, Africa, and South Asia (MEASA) region and the largest event ever held in the Arab world.
- B) What is it offering that is different from the rest of the other partners that will make Africa say that Dubai is a more suitable suitor than those already established on the continent, and what role do you see Dubai playing in adding value to the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA)?
Dubai is in a unique position to offer great advantages to African economies and businesses. The emirate has long been a preferred hub for African companies, and thus holds the keys to unlocking Africa’s untapped trade and investment potential. Our strategic geographic location between Africa and Asia allows Dubai to offer an unparalleled advantage for African exporters looking to expand into emerging markets around the world.
Dubai’s strategic geographic location, along with its close proximity to Africa, world-class airports and shipping ports to the advanced and tailored services offered by free zones– are all major advantages that African companies can tap into.
The emirate’s trade with Africa has increased sharply in recent years, thanks to growing interest among UAE and African companies forge cross-border partnerships and expand their global presence. AfCFTA offers another promising opportunity for expanding bilateral ties. The landmark agreement, which created the world’s largest continental free trade area connecting the continent’s 55 countries, has every potential to transform the continent’s economic prospects.
A recent forecast by the Dubai Chamber projected the emirate’s trade with Africa to see an annual growth of up to 10% in trade volume over the next five years following the AfCFTA’s implementation.
- The GBF 2021 seeks to showcase the Dubai-Africa bridge, which has been a fundamental initiative of Dubai Chamber. Can you explain how the chamber is facilitating international revenue flows by engaging decision-makers in the global investment scene? What initiatives are there for more investment and/or funding to projects in Africa, and can you share some of the success stories that have taken place?
GBF Africa is an important component in Dubai’s goal of increasing foreign trade from AED1.4 trillion to AED2 trillion over the next five years, with foreign investment into Africa being a key in meeting this target. The Global Business Forum Africa is a leading initiative that have played a crucial role in boosting Dubai’s overall global trade, with the five-year target of AED2 trillion as announced by H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum in March this year.
By helping investors capitalise on its huge untapped potential, we enhance Africa’s position as the most influential factor in ramping up Dubai’s global trade. Dubai Chamber’s international offices – located in Ghana, Ethiopia, Mozambique and Kenya – are playing a crucial role in facilitating and expanding Dubai’s trade with African markets. The offices organise trade missions, conduct market intelligence, identify business opportunities for our members and assist African companies keen to enter the Dubai market or to leverage the emirate to expand their footprint into new markets with Dubai as the gateway. Our newly-launched ‘Why Africa’ initiative is an extension of these efforts as it provides in-depth analysis various African markets that offer the most potential to investors in the UAE.
3. Influential stakeholders from the UAE, Africa and other parts of the world are participating in GBF 2021 at the highest level, where focus is on key economic developments and investment opportunities emerging across the continent. As sustainability is a major focus for the Dubai Expo 2020, what opportunities do you see in the Environmental, Social and Governance arena across Africa. How is the Dubai Chamber playing a critical role in expanding this?
Africa is home to some of the world’s largest oil and gas reserves, coal, metals, and minerals. The consideration of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors in investing in Africa is closely tied to sustainable development.
Sustainability is a big part of Dubai Chamber’s mission and is certainly high on the agenda at the upcoming Global Business Forum on Africa 2021. Dubai Chamber is working closely with African strategic partners, including investors and entrepreneurs, to explore ways of investing in Africa’s ESG sector, but also other sectors that have an impact on sustainability, such as the rapidly growing food and beverage sector.
Dubai is also well-placed to boost Africa’s latent tourist potential. Prior to the pandemic, Dubai was the fourth-most visited city in the world by international tourists. The emirate’s flagship carrier, Emirates Airlines, supports this by being one of the largest international carriers in the world, with its hub, Dubai International Airport, the world’s busiest airport by international passenger traffic. There is huge scope for partnership between UAE and African airline stakeholders to improve African airline’s connectivity, as and when the pandemic eases. Prior to Covid, Ethiopian Airlines was Africa’s largest and most successful airline and was enhancing travel to and within the continent, but there is scope for many more of the continent’s airlines to ramp up their activities and Dubai has the expertise to play a role in this.
Africa can also learn a great deal from Dubai’s business acumen. It has attracted investors through allowing companies free repatriation of capital, the issuing of long-term visas for investors and entrepreneurs and the provision of incubators to help fledgling enterprises get off the ground. Similar initiatives conducted through partnerships with Dubai and UAE business stakeholders and institutions would enable African countries to broaden its appeal to entrepreneurs, investors and corporate enterprises.
These are just some of the many ways Dubai and the UAE can draw on its wealth of knowledge and expertise in growing business sectors to help countries in Africa expand, develop their economic base, and stake out a new future of prosperity.
4. Technological advances have seen Dubai leapfrog to solving many problems which would have been impossible without technology. How is the Dubai Chamber enabling greater technological flows between the Emirate and Africa, and what do governments and the private sector need to do to build off the foundation created by Dubai.
Advanced technology, digitalisation, and innovation have been at the heart of Dubai’s growth and development – and we are always looking to share our experiences in that regard, particularly with our partners from Africa. The continent has proven to be fertile ground for innovation lately, with African countries that previously relied heavily on agriculture diversifying beyond commodities and investing in innovation-focused sectors and startups that are driving the continent’s digital shift.
The Dubai Chamber for Digital Economy is mandated with transforming the Emirate of Dubai into a global centre for the digital economy. The digital economy contributes about 4.3% of the GDP in the UAE, which is equivalent to AED100 billion. There are more than 1,400 start-ups in the country, with a total value of start-ups in the country is estimated to be AED90 billion.
Governments and private companies in Africa must work together to drive digitalisation across the continent and embed technology and innovation into every sector.
5. Can you describe the current state of the Dubai-Africa relations, how the Dubai Chamber is seeking to build the Dubai-Africa bridge and where you see Africa’s relationship with Dubai/UAE over the next 5 years?
The African continent has become the third-largest trade region for Dubai after Asia and Europe. Africa-UAE trade and business is set to increase as the government looks to expand ties with emerging markets. Recently, the government announced plans to deepen its trade ties in Asia and Africa as part of a broader plan to draw $150 billion in foreign investment and reposition itself as a global hub for business and finance.
Dubai’s trade with Africa could see an annual increase of up to 10 percent in trade volume over the next five years following the implementation of the AfCFTA, according to a recent forecast by the Dubai Chamber.
Africa offers tremendous opportunities for collaboration and partnerships. We have identified several sectors poised for growth, as part of a big research we conducted to the GBF Africa. These include financial services and fintech, which was given a significant boost with the pandemic and social distancing requirements; healthcare, which is witnessing reforms following renewed attention brought by COVID-19; and retail & e-commerce.
Another important sector is food & beverage. In 2020, Dubai’s total F&B trade with the African continent amounted to USD2.4bn, the highest since 2017.
This marks an annual growth rate of 18%, the highest rate recorded over the last five years, from 2015 to 2020, where F&B products accounted on average for 13% of Dubai-Africa total trade (excluding gold, jewelry, and precious stones). The F&B sector is of particular importance to the UAE food security strategies and plans. For Africa, the sector is a magnet for foreign investment, driven by the continent’s abundance of fertile land and ample rainfall.
In recent years, Africa has proven to be fertile ground for innovation as African countries move to diversify their economies away from agriculture and commodities to invest in innovation-focused sectors and startups that are driving the continent’s digital shift. GBF Africa 2021 will offer a glimpse into what the future of the Dubai-Africa trade relationship will look like.