Executive Focus: Mohammed Omar Abdullah, Undersecretary, Department of Economic Development (DED), Abu Dhabi
Where do you see the most potential for growth in the non-oil sectors?
ABDULLAH: The non-oil sector will play a major role in leading our economy for the next 20 years. Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 has set non-oil sector contribution to GDP at 64% by 2030. This target will be achieved through the intensification of current activities, expanding the base of business, and increasing communication with foreign markets. This will be maintained through the promotion of sectors that further economic diversification in the emirate. Targeted sectors for growth include: petrochemicals, minerals, aviation, and aerospace.What new initiatives is the Department of Economic Development involved in?
ABDULLAH: We have different initiatives we are involved in. Masdar is part of Mubadala, and they are creating renewable energy projects like Masdar City. These projects are very important for the coming generation. In addition to that, in the area of semiconductors, there is a very good amount of investment that has been considered and we are partnered with other leading countries in this particular area. In addition to that, we have an agreement with Airbus to provide composite materials. This is taking place in Al Ain. So these are major strategic projects for Abu Dhabi.In what ways are the non-oil sectors being enabled?
ABDULLAH: As part of our effort to develop non-oil sectors, export oriented industries will play a great role over the next couple of years. In order for us to enable these sectors, we have to look at the possibility of establishing an export development agency. Therefore the DED has started to build a complete strategy in order for us to encourage companies to export to the international market. We have started with the strategy and now we are working on the business plan and the proper structure for this vehicle. We are expecting this to be completed by early 2012. The Export Development Agency (EDA) is mainly intended to support and facilitate export industries through upgrading of the local product specifications, increasing competitiveness, and opening of new overseas markets under the banner of "Made in UAE".
The DED had already developed a legal framework for the EDA, which is now in the process of final approval by the Executive Council. The DED strategy to support domestic exports from the emirate has three pillars; the first is designated to meet the needs of companies in term of skills, information and communications; the second is developing specific programs for the development of exports through increasing value addition and the creation of quality employment; and third through enabling companies to compete effectively in new markets and raise competitiveness in global markets. The EDA supporting and facilitating role will help export-oriented industries by minimizing or eliminating obstacles facing exports, encouraging the private sector to enter new markets, and helping industries to acquire adequate funding for their businesses. This will help develop diversification as it will boost industrial activities in the emirate.What are Abu Dhabi's competitive advantages when it comes to industry?
ABDULLAH: The basic industries are very important for our economy. We have a very good advantage here in Abu Dhabi because we have energy. Having these industries in clusters will also encourage small and medium enterprises that will help our young nationals to contribute to our economy.What role will the DED play in encouraging FDI?
ABDULLAH: According to Vision 2030, we have to be part of the world economy and our target is to integrate our economy with the international economy. This will not happen unless we establish economic strategies that are in line with other countries. Strategic partnerships are very important for us. We look for knowledge transfer and know-how and this happens when we build bridges with new strategic partners. Also to ensure the flow of FDI, the DED is working to establish an investment agency that will encourage both domestic investment and foreign investment. This is also in line with Vision 2030 and will go along with the project to create an export agency.Where are the best investment opportunities in the UAE today?
ABDULLAH: We have a number of opportunities in the petrochemical industries, and we also have a lot of opportunity in building materials and food industries. Semiconductors will bring FDI as well as knowledge transfer and know-how. These industries and services including financial services will help us to achieve our goal of diversifying the economy.How well positioned is Abu Dhabi to strengthen economic ties with countries such as China and India?
ABDULLAH: It is very important to promote industrial cooperation between China and Abu Dhabi to attract more Chinese industrial enterprises to invest in the emirate of Abu Dhabi. This will enable us to benefit from Chinese industrial experience and advance technological transfer. The China-Arab States Economic and Trade Forum will provide an invaluable opportunity for UAE businessmen and companies learn about investment opportunities and discuss possibilities of joint investment in industrial projects. The DED makes every effort to provide all facilities to support Chinese companies to invest in the emirate of Abu Dhabi. We see opportunity to cooperate with China in all fields, but especially in education, tourism, energy, and industry. This is furthered by China's economic weight in the international economy. Regarding India, there is no doubt that Indian business is growing in size in Abu Dhabi, which contributes to enhancing opportunities for partnership and cooperation between the private sectors in both countries and opens wider areas of cooperation through the exhibitions and joint promotion activities organized by Abu Dhabi and India alike. The opening of the Special Economic Zones in of Khalifa Port will also contribute to increasing India's economic presence in Abu Dhabi. Additionally, India began to negotiate a free trade agreement with the GCC. On the other hand Abu Dhabi is expected to have a big presence in the Indian economy as India has a need for investments in infrastructure.How is Abu Dhabi, and the DED specifically, working to reduce bureaucracy and "red tape" for foreign investment, particularly in the non-oil sectors?
ABDULLAH: The DED signed a joint cooperation agreement for facilitating services with 16 federal and local government entities. A number of agreements will also be concluded with other departments, which will cover 42 federal and local government entities. The aims of these agreements are to enhance the investment environment through speeding up the business establishment procedures, eliminating red tape, and simplifying procedures needed to obtain economic licenses in the emirate through a one stop shop. This approach supports the DED's goals and strategy to achieve sustainable development, create a unique business environment, and enable Abu Dhabi to be among the best five governments in the world.What role will the DED play in driving economic growth and development?
ABDULLAH: We are the policy maker and facilitator as DED. We look to enable the other industries to come and take part of our economic strategy. So what we are looking for is to put the right strategy, plan, and set of policies in place that will help and encourage these industries to contribute to a greater level in our GDP; so this is my ambition.How has the standard of living changed over the short to medium term and what do you forecast for the future?
ABDULLAH: According to the Abu Dhabi Statistics Centre, the consumer prices index during the first seven months of 2011 increased 2.5% compared to the same period in 2010. This rate of inflation is considered quite low compared to other countries. To monitor the standard of living, the DED has developed "The National Family Status Observatory" indicator, which is released quarterly by the Economic Indicators and Future Studies Division. The indicator is intended to study and survey the economic conditions of national families in Abu Dhabi, and to follow up recent economic and social developments in family lifestyle. It is also reflects income, expenditure, and future expectations. In addition, the DED is in the process of issuing the first "Human Development Report". The aim of this report is to monitor the trends in overall human development in the emirate, and determine its future course, and contribute to policy formulation in development issues at the national level.