“Our world is deeply interconnected, and no region is self-sufficient.” said Abdul-Aziz Abdulla Al Ghurair, chairman of Dubai Chambers, during the opening speech of the inaugural Dubai Business Forum. “It is important now, more than ever, to use our relationships to strengthen trade, drive investment, and drive opportunity in emerging markets,” Al Ghurair added.
Al Ghurair was speaking to over 2,000 delegates from all over the world at the Dubai Business Forum. Held from November 1–2, 2023, the forum convened distinguished figures from the public and private sectors to participate in insightful discourses around the theme “Shifting Economic Power: Dubai and the Future of Global Trade.”
While outlining the government’s strong focus on digital transformation, Al Ghurair shared that in 2022, startups in Dubai raised over USD 2 billion in funding, double of the previous year. The city plans to attract 300 digital-focused startups next year and nurture the next generation of unicorns.
Shaping the future of global trade with Dubai as a global hub
The morning sessions kicked off with an inspiring keynote address by Abdullah bin Touq Al Marri, the UAE’s minister of economy, who highlighted the nation’s pivotal role in enhancing regional trade partnerships and fostering domestic economic growth.
“Today, the global economy is witnessing rapid shifts that have tested the resilience and adaptability of countries worldwide and have posed significant challenges to economies around the world,” said Al Marri. “Yet, the UAE has demonstrated extraordinary resilience in the face of these challenges. The nation has remained committed to its principles of economic diversification, openness, and sustainability,” he continued.
According to Al Marri, the UAE economy grew by 3.7% in real GDP in the first half of 2023, and this growth rate is expected to continue for the remainder of the year, primarily driven by the non-oil sector.
Apart from doubling its GDP by 2023, the Dubai Economic Agenda (D33) is also aimed at enhancing Dubai’s reputation as a fast-growing and attractive center for business, positioning the emirate among the top three cities globally. Helal Saeed Al Marri, director general of the Dubai Department of Economy and Tourism, highlighted that Dubai’s growth is accelerated by digitalization, innovation, and entrepreneurship, which help to attract new companies and global talent.
Sustainability is also a priority for the UAE and the nation has pledged to reduce emissions. As part of the Dubai Clean Energy Strategy 2050, and the UAE Net Zero by 2050 initiative, the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) will be implementing several projects to diversify clean energy sources. According to Saeed Mohammed Al Tayer, managing director and CEO of DEWA, these projects include a hydroelectric power station in Hatta, the first of its kind in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region, as well as green hydrogen production using solar power, which is part of DEWA’s roadmap for a green hydrogen strategy.
In January 2022, DEWA launched the DEWA-SAT1 nanosatellite into low Earth orbit, which is now being utilized to improve the maintenance and planning of electricity and water networks. According to DEWA, it is the world’s first utility company to deploy and use nanosatellites for such purposes. It is also ostensibly the first local government entity to launch a virtual platform using metaverse technology.
Khalfan Belhoul, CEO of the Dubai Future Foundation, believes that agility and the speed of innovation are the driving forces behind the UAE’s success. Acknowledging the different requirements small and medium enterprises need as compared to startups, Belhoul added that the government is agile and adapts its regulations to continue improving the ease of business, adapting to the new needs of the digital economy while keeping communication channels open between the private and public sectors.
China remains a key partner for the UAE economy
One of the forum’s common threads of discussion revolved around the rising uncertainty across global markets and the fragmentation of global trade. Ian Goldin, professor of globalization and development at the University of Oxford, said that insulating economies, protectionism, and nationalism pose bigger dangers to countries than the risks associated with an open global system. For many countries, sustaining foreign direct investment (FDI) has been a key challenge over the last three years.
In spite of these crosswinds, Dubai retained its top spot globally for attracting greenfield FDI projects in 2022, according to the 2022 “FDI Markets” report by the Financial Times.
As China and the UAE celebrate ten years of mutual partnership, the participation of the UAE in BRICS, starting next year, will unlock various opportunities for businesses from both countries. Mohammad Ali Rashed Lootah, president and CEO at Dubai Chambers, is optimistic that a wider range of products and services can be traded among the BRICS members. The removal of non-tariff barriers will also expedite the speed of bilateral trade.
Under Lootah’s leadership, the Dubai Chambers plans to open 50 representative offices globally by 2030, with one opening in Beijing this year to serve northern China. This will be the fourth Dubai Chambers office in mainland China.
During a panel discussion, Richad Soundardjee, CEO for the UAE and Egypt at China International Capital Corporation (CICC), shared that strong interest from Asian investors in the region’s capital market has grown over time, with Chinese investors viewing Dubai and the wider region as attractive options for expansion beyond their domestic markets. “The UAE is top of the list for Chinese investors owing to the dynamism and diversification of this market. The region is becoming a platform for international expansion for many of our Asian clients,” Soundardjee said.
Hamed Ali, CEO of the Dubai Financial Market and CEO of Nasdaq Dubai, said that Dubai’s prominence as a capital market can be attributed to the emirate’s success in unlocking its assets and maintaining two-way communication between markets and investors. “We would like to tap into the very significant international opportunities in China and Africa. Dubai can provide visibility and scale to companies from these markets,” Ali said.
Marwan Al Marri, regional director of Asia at Dubai Chambers, hopes to see more Chinese companies attending the Dubai Business Forum next year. “Dubai grows every year, and every year is an opportunity for businesses to expand their horizons,” Al Marri enthused. “Chinese companies can come here to enjoy the ecosystem that the Dubai Chambers has built for Chinese companies to meet businesses from other continents and identify further opportunities for collaboration,” he added.
36Kr Global is a media partner of the Dubai Business Forum.