Invest in Sharjah, the Emirate of Sharjah’s foreign direct investment office, has worked in recent years to promote Sharjah as an ideal investment destination for SMEs, mega-projects in real estate, various initiatives in the field of renewable energy, and many other sectors. Sharjah has been able to capitalize on its strategic location in the Gulf, its wealth of infrastructural resources including three ports and an international airport, as well as its competitive costs compared to other emirates and GCC states. The emirate has enjoyed a relationship with China dating back to the 1970s and views China as a critical market for its continued growth
What experience do you bring to your role as the CEO of the Sharjah FDI office “Invest in Sharjah”?
I have been in the investment development industry for over 12 years, as I started my career at the Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry in 2006. Then I joined the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq) as the head of investment promotions, before being promoted to director of international affairs. When Shurooq began expanding further in the development and growth of Sharjah’s FDI, they established the Sharjah FDI Office (Invest in Sharjah) as the entity in charge of growing and promoting FDI growth across a variety of emerging sectors.
I was entrusted with the responsibility of heading Invest in Sharjah, as well as implementing strategies and methodologies that would uniquely contribute to FDI growth and development between the emirate and a variety of international investors and markets.
According to Invest in Sharjah, FDI grew by around 15 percent in 2017. To what do you attribute this success?
A lot of things have changed in the past five to six years in Sharjah. The wise vision and directives of His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Muhammed Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, played a key role in supporting and driving the economic growth of Sharjah, allowing it to expand and develop into new markets that attract local and international investments until today. These opportunities have strengthened collaborations and unified initiatives undertaken by numerous state entities in Sharjah, allowing the conceptualization and implementation of new ideas, solutions, projects and regulations that directly serviced international investors across different fields. These regulatory changes have attracted a lot of investment to the emirate and into different sectors. The UAE has undergone a series of changes and transitions in its economic infrastructure, prompting other emirates to follow a similar path and personalize services and opportunities that meet their market demands and the demands of the future. Sharjah’s key advantage is its low dependency on oil-related investments, with the oil and gas sector comprising less than 6 percent of Sharjah’s GDP. Our key sectors include manufacturing, wholesale, retail, logistics and financial services. Year on year, Sharjah’s market has expanded and multiplied to new sectors, where today we are witnessing substantial growth in the real estate sector and construction, as well as research and development, and technological advancements. In other words, Sharjah is an emirate that is predominantly focused on industry. We are the industrial hub of the UAE. About 35 percent of the country’s industry takes place in Sharjah. We are also focused on SMEs, which I consider to be the backbone of any economy. We have more than 55,000 companies registered in Sharjah and 90 percent of those are SMEs. Also, 73,000 trade licenses were issued in Sharjah during 2017, with an average growth of 2 percent in comparison to that volume in 2016, as well as a growth of 27 percent in the total number of industrial licenses issued.
How does your work in FDI impact the livelihood of the people of Sharjah?
Attracting new investments in Sharjah means increasing the employment rate of citizens in the emirate, which also means developing and uplifting the purchasing power and the flow of capital for citizens and investors alike. We have recently announced that more than 3,000 jobs were created as a result of the growing portfolio of projects in Sharjah, as well as the remarkable 5 percent growth in GDP in 2017, with manufacturing, construction, wholesale and retail, hospitality, F&B and real estate experiencing growth of 6 to 9 percent. It also creates a strategic influence on human development, as well as positively influencing citizens’ approach to entrepreneurship, innovation and start-ups in Sharjah. Let’s take the tourism industry in Sharjah, for example. This industry is considered one of Shurooq’s primary industries, which it has developed since its inception in 2009. During this period, Shurooq has accrued a portfolio of completed and ongoing projects, with tourism projects being the vast majority of its portfolio, worth AED7.6 billion and extending across a total area of 11.74 million square meters. With more than 15 tourism and hospitality projects existing and in the pipeline, the authority is now gearing itself for the opening of a variety of new hotels and resorts, as well as the process of developing a number of eco-tourism projects. These activities have been playing a key role in diversifying Sharjah’s economy, and attracting unique long-term foreign investors to build their business in and around these projects. It is evident that the new rules and regulations for foreign ownership in Sharjah provided the main reason for reaching those FDI figures. Two years ago the rules for foreign property ownership changed significantly. Non-Arab foreigners are now allowed to purchase residential plots in Sharjah on a 100-year leasehold, and Arab nationals can have freehold ownership on their properties. These new rules have helped Shurooq and other developers to create new mega-residential projects in Sharjah, such as Aljada by ARADA, and Maryam Island.
Why should Chinese investors come to Sharjah ahead of other emirates and countries in the GCC area?
The relationship between China and Sharjah is one of the oldest and most historic relationships, dating as far back as over 40 years, where the first Chinese airlines to visit UAE landed at Sharjah International Airport. At the end of the 1990s, Sharjah hosted the first Chinese permanent exhibition and trade show, another milestone in exploring new frontiers within the Sharjah-China bilateral relationship. For more than 10 years, we have been hosting the annual Chinese Commodity Fair, and host representatives from the Regional Representative Office of China Council for the Promotion of International Trade (CCPIT), which is based in Sharjah, to support their businesses locally and across the Gulf Region. Sharjah is one of the most active cities regarding China’s activities in the Middle East, supporting investments from a variety of sectors, such as manufacturing, trade, logistics, as well as other sectors that support China’s Belt and Road Initiative. With 60 percent of China’s exports to the Gulf Region entering the UAE, Sharjah has been a key platform for many Chinese businesses to access the MENA market, as well as expanding progressively. Home to seven specialized free zones, Chinese investors can enjoy a variety of unique investment opportunities in manufacturing, trade, logistics and construction by exploring the emirate’s industrial free zones, as well as the Sharjah Airport International Free Zone (SAIF Zone), Hamriya Free Zone Authority (HFZA), Al Saja’a Industrial Oasis and more. On the other hand, Chinese investors interested in media productions and entertainment can explore setting up their ventures at the newly announced Sharjah Media City (Shams), while those interested in healthcare can explore the Sharjah Healthcare City. Publishing, one of the biggest sectors in China’s economy, is also among the promising sectors investors can benefit from in Sharjah. Sharjah Publishing City, which is the first publishing free zone and community project in the world, is home to hundreds of brands, authors, publishers and businesses from the literature industry. Additional free zones such as the Sharjah Research, Technology and Innovation Park are all key areas where Chinese investors can benefit from setting up their businesses in the fields of education, environment and technologies. And when it comes to tourism, investors can benefit substantially from exploring new ideas within the emirate’s tourism destinations developed by Shurooq.
What advantages does Sharjah offer as a business hub? Why choose Sharjah and why now?
Sharjah is doing a lot in terms of easing the business process for foreign investors and, of course, Chinese investors are among them. At the Sharjah FDI Office (Invest in Sharjah) we are very much focusing on attracting Chinese companies to the Emirate of Sharjah; that’s why we have a dedicated investment promotion manager for the Chinese market. Among our annual international visits, China is one of the key countries we visit on multiple occasions during the year. This year we were honored to take part in the Belt and Road Summit in Hong Kong, in addition to organizing a number of roadshows in China welcoming high-level Chinese delegations to Sharjah. We currently service, promote and are building on the number of 690 Chinese companies registered in Sharjah, which make up 16 percent of the total number of Chinese companies based in the UAE (total of 4,200 Chinese companies). Thanks to the growing development Sharjah has been undertaking in its economic infrastructure, not to mention the new regulations and special free zones that have come out recently, Chinese companies are increasing their activities and operations within the emirate with products and services such as furniture, electronics, auto spare parts, building materials and light manufacturing industries.
What role do you envision for Sharjah in the $1 trillion trade Belt and Road infrastructure program?
Sharjah can play a very positive role in this. We have a strategic location in the UAE, and Sharjah has ideal infrastructure with three ports and the Sharjah International Airport as a major cargo hub in the region. Most importantly, there is a great support from our government and a strong interest in being part of the Belt and Road Initiative. This program represents one of the key pillars to strengthening global economies, as well as strengthening political ties between economic giants. This pillar is what we at the Sharjah FDI Office (Invest in Sharjah) refer to as connectivity. Connectivity is one of the most important values that we continue to promote in relation to Sharjah’s diversified and sustainable economy. The emirate follows the principle of establishing a knowledge-based economy, which strengthens old bridges and creates new ones, sustaining a dynamic and leading network with more than half of the world’s largest and most powerful economies. Our primary objective at Invest in Sharjah has always been to communicate, promote and facilitate new investments from large markets such as Asia through Sharjah’s new “open market” policies, as well as Sharjah’s business-friendly services and regulations that meet the demands of Asian investors in general. As part of this mission, we see the importance of working closely with our neighboring nations, as well as chief business partners from the Belt and Road Initiative, in order to create a sustainable launch pad for connectivity between nations.
Why is China so relevant for Sharjah’s growth?
China plays a major role in the world economy, known for being the second largest economy in the world. China is currently the leading outward FDI country in the world. In addition to that, we have a historic bilateral relationship and strong trade ties, which are very beneficial to both. We are always looking to grow and expand on our relationship with China by participating in all the major events to promote the emirate’s investment opportunities to Chinese companies. Having CCPIT based here and hosting activities such as China Trade Week will definitely help us attract more Chinese interest. At Invest in Sharjah, we are focusing on promoting the main sectors with great investment potential in the emirate, and one of these sectors which resonates especially with the Chinese market is the renewable energy sector. In the last few years, we have received a large number of inquiries from Chinese companies and investors concerning this industry. There are also a lot of opportunities for us to learn from China, such as how to effectively operate and manage free zones, something they have done with great success there. Another sector that holds great interest for Chinese investors and companies is light manufacturing. China is trying to encourage their companies to start producing outside of China to reach different markets. Instead of reaching Europe from China, they utilize other hubs such as at the UAE to reach markets that are closer. Our free zones are open for Chinese manufacturers to come and set up a base here to distribute their products from Sharjah to the whole region. We also want Chinese companies to benefit from the favorable treaties we offer, for example, products made in the UAE, even by Chinese companies, receive tax exemptions and other benefits in other GCC countries.
What is your biggest achievement within your role as CEO of Invest in Sharjah?
One of the biggest achievements is that we have put a solid and diverse team together. We have people of different nationalities who allow us to understand the needs of different investors from the whole world. This is a tremendous strength. Furthermore, we have worked together in leading the FDI growth within the emirate of Sharjah both locally and globally, by hosting a variety of the leading investment exhibitions and forums such as the Sharjah FDI Forum, the Sharjah Ramadan Majlis, Euromoney Emirates: Sharjah, and a number of business roundtables with global markets. Coming up this year will be the fourth Sharjah FDI Forum, which is slated to take place in Q4 this year, and is expected to build on the massive success of the third edition, which resulted with leading insights and developments in the region’s approach regarding the Fourth Industrial Revolution.
Do you have any final messages for readers of The Economic Observer?
We invite all Chinese investors, business owners and entrepreneurs to visit Sharjah and explore its free zones and mainland, which offer a variety of opportunities and cost-effective solutions.
Invest in Sharjah is specifically responsible for supporting and guiding investors concerning the mechanisms and procedures of setting up businesses within the emirate, which creates a cost-effective and efficient value behind their investments in Sharjah. The visible growth in the emirate’s real estate sector has been a primary driver for supporting and developing the emirate’s multicultural society and business environment, as well as developing the emirate’s educational sector by attracting more foreign students into Sharjah’s University City, all combining to establish a 360-degree value and quality proposition to investors of different ages and businesses.