Interview: Sheikh Ahmad bin Saqr Al Qasimi

Given the increasing diversification in the free zone, what sectors do you see having the greatest potential outside of industry and tourism?

SHEIKH AHMAD BIN SAQR AL QASIMI: One of the main goals of RAK FTZ is consolidating and strengthening our traditional core industrial manufacturing sector. While diversification is necessary to long-term sustainable growth, we must not lose focus on our industrial roots, which will continue to play an integral part in our advancement up the economic value chain. With that being said, we need to come up with a sustainable economic mix; an economy made up of industry and services.

A wider ecosystem of businesses, made up of linkage and support sub-sectors, will increase diversification, and contribute to broader economic expansion and overall growth rates. Education will be the catalyst in developing a wide-reaching and more harmonious economic mix. Education is also the number one determinant of long-term economic growth and could very well lead to multiplier effects down the line. In order to expand the breadth and depth of our education sector, we are appealing to a wide variety of academic institutions to set up in RAK. These include university branch campuses, higher education providers, early learning centres, vocational bodies and professional development institutes. Finally, the health sector has received major impetus with the opening of Sheikh Khalifa Specialty Hospital. In time, we expect RAK FTZ to attract health sub-sectors that can help enhance overall operations. We foresee best practices emerging quickly with the addition of nursing schools, wellness centres and research labs.

What factors are drawing businesses to the FTZ?

SHEIKH AHMAD: Working with RAK FTZ means that businesses benefit from closer proximity to major markets including the Gulf, the wider Middle East, South Asia, Africa and Europe. RAK FTZ is currently home to 8000 companies from over 100 countries and more than 50 sectors. We encourage business owners and entrepreneurs to set up a company in the free zone by offering myriad incentives that can help them rapidly become thriving enterprises. These include a tax-free environment, 100% business ownership, freedom from Customs duty, high-quality facilities, fast-track licensing and visa processes, and business support services that allow businesses to set up and grow profits as quickly as possible. We also allow the construction of labour accommodation on site, which helps business owners eliminate costs associated with labour transportation.

The benefits RAK FTZ offers come at a competitive cost. Prices for our comprehensive business packages are up to 50% lower than in other free zones in the UAE. We devised lower cost structures to help our clients maximise return on investments. Moreover, we have made a concerted effort to modernise our facilities and make each one customisable in the free zone. No matter which type of park, i.e. technology, heavy industry or academia, each will be tailor-made to suit the needs of the businesses at hand. We strive to become the most welcoming, efficient and easy investment destination in the world by continuously developing new services and facilities that are specifically designed to support business growth.

What is being done to equip young Emiratis with the skills needed by the job market?

SHEIKH AHMAD: RAK FTZ places a high priority on recruiting, training and retaining talented UAE nationals. This can be seen in our recruitment policy, where 20% of our employees are Emirati.

We have also implemented the Tatawuri Initiative and the UAE Empowerment Programme, which aim to hone and expand the skill-sets of Emiratis.

In addition, work-experience programmes on offer can bridge potential skill gaps that may emerge in the transition between the classroom and the workplace.