Interview : Mohamed Thani Murshed Al Rumaith

In what ways can industrial policy help attract investments to technology-oriented segments?

MOHAMED THANI MURSHED AL RUMAITH: The government has been promoting the private sector as the engine of economic growth. The 2016-20 Industrial Strategy aims to support highend, high-value-added sectors, such as downstream petrochemicals, pharmaceuticals, aviation, precision engineering and renewable energy. Joint ventures and preferential treatment are set to attract investment into these sectors because the traditional development model – from subsistence agriculture to labour-intensive manufacturing to high-end advanced manufacturing – does not hold anymore in the 21st century. To successfully industrialise and compete in global markets, countries need to leapfrog into high-end manufacturing. Abu Dhabi has an abundance of capital, which is an advantage over other emerging economies that have an abundance of unskilled or semi-skilled labour.

How is the government supporting the private sector through public-private partnerships (PPPs)?

AL RUMAITHI: Perhaps the three most-important industries for increasing private sector finance and expertise are renewable energy, health care services and education, among conventional sectors, such as tourism and construction. Traditionally, Abu Dhabi has provided both the hard and soft infrastructure for so-called business-enabling environments, and has participated in projects to establish this supra-infrastructure. The government is looking to support the private sector through PPPs, in which the public sector has easier access to finance, whereas the private sector has the technical expertise. For example, the Abu Dhabi Municipality has recently adopted the build-operate-transfer model in some of its PPP projects.

How can technology benefit firms’ competitiveness?

AL RUMAITHI: Given that most countries in the region are competing to grab a larger share of the global supply chain, the most efficient producer will be the ultimate winner. To this end, Abu Dhabi is crafting its industrial policy to achieve greater efficiency through the use of big data, artificial intelligence, 3D printing, robotics and the like. These fourth industrial revolution supporting technologies (FIRST) will considerably increase the competitiveness of Abu Dhabi, especially in high-end advanced manufacturing such as pharmaceuticals, petrochemicals, aviation and aeronautics, defence industries and renewable energy. This is supported by introducing curricula in universities and technical colleges focusing on science and technology, providing special grants for research institutions and think tanks, and raising awareness of FIRST initiatives.

What are the priorities for simplifying business processes and encouraging a level playing field for the public and private sectors?

AL RUMAITHI: Since 2015 ADCCI and the Department of Economic Development have worked in close collaboration to transparently identify the challenges facing the private sector. During several business forums and workshops held over the 2017-18 period, over 50 constraints hampering the private sector were identified. Most of these were solved with quick actions by the government. For example, a main challenge in the construction sector has been delayed timely payments to private contractors, thus creating adverse trickle-down effects in the real estate sector. Some of the large real estate developers are publicly held companies, and the government has taken quick actions to make payments on time to contractors by disbursing funds at a much faster rate than it previously did.

To this end, the government has adopted a more hands-on approach through deliberation and coordination councils, in which the public and private sectors are given equal importance. The critical role of ADCCI has been to report the challenges from the private sector to the government for quick and decisive actions.