From Dubai to Doha

by John Defterios
29 April 2008
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Dubai - There is a rich history of trading in Dubai that stretches back to the 1850s. And it is this mindset which is at the heart of the Emirate's business plan for the next quarter century.

Take DP World, the trading division of the company, Dubai World. It has forged 23 different deals stretching from China to Djibouti. This allows Dubai Inc. to place a corporate flag in each country, planting the seeds for future relationships and growth.

This sounds simple, but it may be the key differentiating factor for the United Arab Emirates vis--vis its competitors in the Gulf.

This week I had a chance to take an in-depth look at some of the building blocks for the future and to take in some high-level analysis from some of the top political and business leaders in the region at two forums the Doha Forum on Democracy, Development and Free Trade and Business Week's Middle East-China Leadership Forum in Dubai.

Over the weekend, I sat in a few business plan briefings at three divisions of Tatweer, a division of Dubai Holdings, the key development vehicle of the government. Dubai Land, Dubai Healthcare City and Dubai Industrial City fit into the next stage of growth. To be candid, it was hard to appreciate the scale of these projects. You might have seen the brands on the many flags, which flutter in the Arabian winds, but to see where they fit into the puzzle of this economy takes quite a different perspective.

I could write a column on each of these projects, but simply put, one represents sizable theme parks and residential real estate; another is a new approach to integrated healthcare which is sorely needed and the final piece is the development of an industrial hub to support the growth which is underway.

The industrial city is under construction. 55 square kilometres of real estate hosts logistics facilities, land available for global and regional manufacturers to lease space and even low income housing for labourers to address one of the thorniest issues facing the governments in the region to take care of the thousands of workers, primarily from South Asia who have been imported into the UAE.

If you take a step back, you can see the logic of all the blueprints and buildings to come. Hotels, golf courses and villas are built to attract visitors and residents. The largest airport in the world is being constructed to bring tourists in and the industrial city will be there to support light industry which has expanded to accommodate this growth. The division managers of these projects smile when asked about the original feasibility studies presented by consultants for all these projects. They were rejected, I am told, by His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Ruler of Dubai and now Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE. It is obvious after this week in the region that the bar is set very high.

Dubai seems to be sprinting to stay ahead of its Gulf neighbours who are now constructing their own visions of the future. On the final approach after a 40-minute flight to Doha from Dubai, one can witness how Qataris plan to expand. Like Dubai, Qatar realises that trained workers and graduates will be needed to fill the buildings and map out the strategies for the future. The first graduates from the Qatar Foundation campus, comprised of four university programmes with links to the West, will commence on 6 May. This is encouraging.

While the small but wealthy Gulf emirates expand, the sizable players of the Middle East are benefiting from what Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan called "the new culture of globalisation". Since his coming to power in 2003, foreign direct investment (FDI) has surged from $1 billion to $22 billion. Turkey not only has a large population, but is able to look East and West as an export hub for Europe and the Middle East. Egypt is enjoying similar FDI growth. This is the benefit of greater integration.

UAE officials say they mapped out their blueprints based not on the 40 million people of the Gulf, but on the 310 million people of the Greater Middle East Free Trade Area (GAFTA). They have tapped into years of pent up demand, especially as many residents repatriated their savings and assets after 9/11. While consultants may want to be conservative with the project studies presented to their clients in the Gulf, the leaders in the region have no plans to heed that advice.

With oil at $110 or more per barrel, it is full steam ahead.

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* John Defterios is an anchor for CNN's Marketplace Middle East (MME). This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org.

Source: Khaleej Times, 21 April 2008, www.khaleejtimes.com
Copyright permission is granted for publication.
 
 
 
 
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