Interview: Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi
What are the competitive advantages of Sharjah compared to its neighbours?
SHEIKHA BODOUR BINT SULTAN AL QASIMI: The beauty of being a part of the UAE is its harmonious approach to the concept of “unity.” Each emirate enjoys the chance to individually promote itself based on its respective economic competencies, while the end goal continues to focus on each emirate delivering a key set of services and sectors that highlight the UAE’s keenness to attract foreign investments and tourists and offer consumer satisfaction on a national and global scale.
Sharjah’s main competitive advantage is its true belief that long-term and successful business relationships start from trade. Therefore, it capitalised on its seaports and the strategic geographical location of its free zones, and developed legislation and tax-free processes to meet the demands and trends of investors across the globe. It was the first trade hub in the region, and is currently home to the largest industrial zone in the GCC. Sharjah has a variety of free zones and seaports that cover the UAE’s eastern and western areas, spanning the Gulf and the Arabian Sea.
To what extent has the relative diversification of the emirate’s economy insulated it from the recent decline in oil prices?
SHEIKHA BODOUR: It is a well-known fact that Sharjah has the most diversified economy in the entire region, whereby different economic sectors contribute equally to our overall GDP and growth. This strategy has been vital in attracting key global investors which seek opportunities in a stable market. When Sharjah looked into diversifying its sectors across health care, environment, tourism and leisure, as well as logistics and transport, the methodology behind this process was to identify the key sectors which are necessary according to residents and consumers in the emirate. Health care is one of the most important sectors for any economy around the world and Sharjah positions itself as the leading regional centre for premium, affordable and the most advanced health care facilities and services. This continues to attract unique investors as well as health tourists. Another example is trade; becoming the first access point for European businesses into the GCC in our early international trade ventures created movement of people and a legacy of dynamic goods, allowing our economy to reinvent itself in the face of a constantly shifting global economic landscape.
We have also identified the environment and tourism sectors as vital to our growth and continuity. The consumer demand exists, and the opportunity exists. We are confident that attracting more tourists from traditional and new markets will continue creating demand for more internationally branded services.
How can Sharjah more effectively leverage its reputation as the educational and cultural centre of the region to attract investment?
SHEIKHA BODOUR: Sharjah is clearly the regional leader when it comes to culture and education. Students that graduate from Sharjah become not only assets, but many of them are leading figures in public and private sectors across the UAE. This fact is extremely important for international investors seeking markets where qualified local human capital exists. It gives them confidence and encourages them to include training and development plans in their investment strategies. So we emphasise the capabilities and qualities of our students on our international road shows, and in every investor interaction.
Our qualified human capital is not only an attractive factor to investors, but it is also creating momentum for innovation and growth. Start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises are the life and soul of every major economy around the world, and our graduates are using the premium education they have received in Sharjah to launch their innovative business ventures, which are increasingly contributing to our growing GDP.
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