After a hiatus caused by the pandemic, Dubai and Africa come together once again in what is arguably the very best platform of its kind at this year’s Global Business Forum Africa (GBF Africa) in Dubai.
As we approach another edition of the event, FurtherAfrica had the privilege of talking to His Excellency, Hamad Buamim, President & CEO of Dubai Chamber about the Chamber’s Africa-focused expansion strategy and the main advantages of attending the upcoming edition of GBF Africa, taking place at Expo 2020 Dubai.
Fabio Scala: Since we have last spoken on GBF Africa 2019, the world has been deeply changed by the pandemic. Much has changed in the way people do business and I can’t help but to feel that Dubai grew into the strongest geography for African focused investors. From 2019 to today, how would you evaluate the evolution of the Dubai-Africa relationship?
H.E. Hamad Buamim: Dubai’s ties to Africa are deep, longstanding and rooted in trade and commerce. Our relationship has only become stronger over the years and the ongoing pandemic hasn’t altered this dynamic. Africa is one of our biggest trading partners and is fundamental to our nation’s economic growth. In fact, last year, despite the challenges posed by Covid-19, Dubai’s non-oil trade with Africa surged past USD50 billion, increasing around 12% compared to 2019.
In recent years our relationship has entered a new phase, with the directive of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, to explore new economic opportunities in Africa. Following this directive, Dubai Chamber redoubled its efforts to increase its activities across the continent. More recently, in March this year, His Highness announced that Dubai put in place a target of boosting its foreign trade from AED 1.4 trillion to AED 2 trillion over the next five years. And with Africa being a priority market for Dubai-based traders and companies, the continent is expected to account for a larger share of Dubai’s trade in the future.
Beyond trade, Dubai has long served as a preferred hub leveraged by African companies to expand their global reach. The emirate offers a wide variety of competitive advantages that make it an ideal destination in this regard, such as is strategic geographic position near African markets, world-class infrastructure, excellence logistics facilities, and a business-friendly regulatory environment.
GBF Africa 2021 plays a vital role in exploring new avenues of UAE-Africa economic cooperation. The two-days of the forum will examine key trends driving Africa’s economy and identify business opportunities that offer the most potential to UAE companies and investors. The forthcoming forum is the first in Dubai Chamber’s GBF series to be conducted following the onset of the global pandemic and is also the first to take place since the landmark African Continental Free Trade Area agreement came into effect. As the first-ever World Expo in the Middle East, Africa, and South Africa (MEASA) region, Expo 2020 Dubai is the ideal backdrop for GBF Africa, boosting the profile and significance of the event as a catalyst for driving UAE-Africa trade.
Over the last five editions of GBF Africa, the forum has brought together more than 6,000 participants, 22 African presidents and 120 African ministers, who held more than 1,150 bilateral investment meetings.
Fabio Scala: The theme of this year’s GBF is ‘Transformation Through Trade’ and with the recent launch of AfCFTA it could not be more appropriate. Dubai is at the cross roads of Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Europe. Specifically on trade, what is your vision for the role of Dubai as a hub and a facilitator for African businesses?
H.E. Hamad Buamim: Dubai has adopted a five-year plan to increase the emirate’s foreign trade from AED1.4 trillion ($381.16 billion) to AED2 trillion ($544.51 billion), said His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of UAE and Ruler of Dubai. Under this plan, Dubai will look to expand its trade links with Africa and identify export opportunities in Africa for UAE-based companies.
At the same time, Dubai offers all the right competitive advantages for African businesses that want to access emerging markets, such as its state-of-the-art logistics facilities and attractive free zones. Dubai International Airport is the largest airline hub in the Middle East and Jebel Ali Port its largest marine terminal, with these mega-facilities just two developments that facilitate the flow of trade. Dubai’s logistics infrastructure and services have been instrumental in placing the UAE consistently at the top of regional and global rankings. The 2021 Agility Emerging Markets Logistics Index, for example, puts the UAE in fourth place in its overall rankings and in first place for ‘Business Fundamentals.’
We can already see the attractiveness of Dubai as a destination for African businesses. Dubai is home to a fast-growing and diverse African business community that continues to expand as the emirate boosts its value proposition. Whether a new start-up or established business, Dubai Chamber offers value-added services that can help African commercial enterprises take root and grow. In addition to certifying commercial documents, providing legal services and facilitating business registration, the Chamber hosts regular networking events, workshops and business delegations that put its members in touch with other, and highlights new opportunities.
African businesses can also utilize Dubai Chamber’s four representative offices in Africa, located in Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya and Mozambique – explore expansion opportunities in the UAE and beyond. These offices play an integral role in helping African enterprises establish themselves in Dubai. At the offices government officials and businesspersons from Africa are able to meet their counterparts from Dubai and the UAE and explore opportunities for growth, investment and trade across an array of economic sectors.
Fabio Scala: For my last question, what would you say is the current state of the Africa-Dubai trade relations and what could investors on both sides do to enhance this relationship?
H.E. Hamad Buamim: The UAE ranks first amongst GCC as trading partner for Africa in 2020 and Egypt, South Africa, Mali, Ghana, Uganda and Kenya are among the top African trading partners to Dubai. Top exported products from Dubai to Africa in 2020 were electric apparatus for line telephony and motor vehicles for transport of persons (except buses), while the top imported products of Dubai from Africa in 2020 were gold, unwrought, semi-manufactures powder form, in addition to Diamonds, not mounted or set
Dubai’s strategic position, its high level of connectivity, its wealth of initiatives to help businesses thrive and its ‘can-do’ attitude can help African businesses become established, reach new heights, and expand their footprint into new markets. Dubai will soon be enhancing this role significantly, with Dubai Chamber shortly to become three separate chambers of commerce: Dubai Chamber of Commerce, Dubai Chamber of International Trade and Dubai Chamber of Digital Economy. With a specific focus on individual sectors, these new entities have been established to strengthen Dubai’s position as a digitally-driven global business hub and a centre of innovation in the new normal. With its dedicated focus on global commerce, the new Dubai Chamber of International Trade will have enhanced capabilities to ramp up trade and commerce between all regions, with trade between Africa and Dubai being a prime focus.
Dubai Chamber has long played the role of business facilitator and enabler, bringing influential African decision makers, business leaders, and government officials together with their counterparts in Dubai to explore opportunities for collaboration that both sides would benefit from. Our Africa strategy relies on a network of four representative offices located in Ghana, Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Kenya, who play a crucial role in identifying business opportunities emerging across Africa and bringing them to the attention of investors and the business community in Dubai.