Interview: Ahmed Khalifa AlQubaisi

What lessons were learned from the Covid-19 pandemic, and how can local small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) address economic challenges?

AHMED KHALIFA ALQUBAISI: The preparedness of the UAE, including Abu Dhabi, was an outcome of its proactive strategy in reinforcing its economic infrastructure. Given that more than 94% of enterprises operating in the country were SMEs, the government proactively prioritised this segment. The National SME Programme, the UAE SME Council to Empower Small and Medium-Sized National Entrepreneurs, Operation 300bn and the Khalifa Fund for Enterprise Development, among other initiatives, were established to provide targeted support.

In March 2020 the UAE introduced a stimulus package worth Dh3bn ($816.6m) as an integral element of the Credit Guarantee Scheme, an initiative to safeguard the future of SMEs. Similarly, the Abu Dhabi Executive Council implemented a series of initiatives during the pandemic to assist SMEs. Ghadan 21 stands out among these; it relieved businesses of certain costs, including annual registration fees for commercial vehicles and tolls, among other supporting activities.

At the same time, the government accelerated its economic diversification endeavours. In 2021-22 Abu Dhabi streamlined various prerequisites for businesses to establish a presence in the emirate. This led to reduced entry and set-up costs for start-ups, as well as streamlining processes to avoid complications that could potentially impede SME market penetration.

Where do you see room for improvement to enhance the awareness and reach of local brands?

ALQUBAISI: Showcasing the inherent values embodied by local brands in the UAE constitutes a strategic endeavour to advance the country’s soft power, both on a regional and an international scale. In September 2017 the UAE launched the UAE Soft Power Strategy to serve as the cornerstone of public diplomacy efforts. This strategy, characterised by its aspirational aims, seeks to enhance the nation’s global reputation by spotlighting its identity, heritage, culture and contributions. Additionally, it aims to establish the UAE as a modern, tolerant nation, and a gateway to the region.

In 2021 the UAE embarked on comprehensive legislative reforms concerning intellectual property (IP) rights. This initiative encompassed the enactment of Federal Law No. 11 of 2021, which safeguards IP rights; Federal Decree-Law No. 36 of 2021, which addresses trademarks and copyrights; and Federal Law No. 38 of 2021, which focuses on copyrights and neighbouring rights. These transformative initiatives are in line with international IP practices, instilling enhanced confidence in the goods and services markets.

Beyond brand preservation, the Emirates National Accreditation System ensures alignment with global benchmarks for certifying the quality of products. Further initiatives include the Make it in the Emirates and the Made in the UAE programmes. The Make it in the Emirates initiative facilitated the launch of 300 products across 11 sectors by allocating Dh110bn ($29.9bn) to support local manufacturing for 12 indigenous companies. The Made in the UAE campaign, for its part, incentivises firms to adhere to national standards, granting them the prestigious Made in the UAE label.

To broaden the global presence of UAE brands, the country has outlined plans to grow exports by 50% over the next several years. This aspiration includes positioning the UAE among the world’s top-20 export-driven countries, with the intent of ensuring the presence of UAE products in more than 180 countries.

These efforts complement the 10X10 programme, which envisages a 10% annual increase in exports to 10 pivotal destination markets, including China and the UK, thereby providing substantial support to Emirati SMEs. In parallel, the UAE launched the National In-Country Value programme in 2018, augmenting investment in research and development in sectors characterised by elevated rates of localisation and Emiratisation.