Interview: Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem

What do you identify as the most significant trends in global trade, particularly in light of the slowdown in emerging markets?

SULTAN AHMED BIN SULAYEM: The world is changing at a remarkable pace, with innovation and technology being two of the most significant drivers of change in recent years. Our transport and communications systems have evolved a lot, and with the help of information technology it is clear that this trend will continue to grow. At the same time, socio-economic and political changes are helping to shape all forms of international cooperation, including trade.

The future of trade will also be affected by the extent to which politics and policies successfully address issues of growing social concern, such as the availability of jobs and income inequality. Recent reports tell us that there will be 5bn people online by the end of this decade, and this growth is coming from the developing world. This is game-changing, and the global trade landscape will need to adapt to make the most of this exciting time. Countries will need to re-assess their strengths and weaknesses and develop their growth strategies accordingly. Nations with a large labour pool are focusing on education, while those that are rich in natural resources are looking at diversification strategies. Economies must coordinate their regulatory approaches, mobilise political support and develop resources in an effort to realise value across the global supply chain.

To what extent is an integrated transport strategy the key to the sustainable development of the emirate’s trade base?

BIN SULAYEM: Our integrated transport strategy is a key pillar of our success story – it is what makes it so easy to do business here. Seamless cargo movement and supply chain management is now expected, and those who do not keep up will lose out. Dubai, and the UAE’s focus on innovation in 2016 is also central to this success in maintaining our leading role as a global trade hub. We need to continue building on our strengths and always anticipating change, putting in place policies that are ahead of their time, as our leaders have done in the past. Soft infrastructure that enables trade and the drive towards smart technologies have boosted our role as a global trading hub. For example, Dubai Trade, the online portal for trade transactions, saw 19.5m transactions completed in 2015, which is a rise of 6%.

How do you assess the economic contribution of the maritime sector and progress towards the objectives of Dubai’s maritime strategy?

BIN SULAYEM: Every day we are working towards making Dubai one of the best maritime capitals of the world by 2020, with initiatives centred on the development, promotion and organisation of the local maritime sector. We are doing well, especially in promoting communication channels among pioneers in the global maritime sector with events such as the first Dubai Maritime Agenda. Such gatherings are valuable in helping to develop a clear vision on present and future challenges and potential opportunities, particularly with regards to technological innovation, legislative excellence, training and human investment. We believe in the importance of opening innovative channels to stimulate cooperation, and in growing Dubai’s GDP through the development and enhancement of our maritime clusters.

Our strategic location between Europe, Asia and Africa attracts approximately 5m investors and tourists on an annual basis. The maritime sector is a big part of this, as it is linked to our free zones and trade and logistics capabilities. An international survey in 2013 predicted that Dubai will be among the world’s top seven leading maritime centres within five years. Dubai is ranked as one of the largest port operators in the world and is among the top 10 by fleet size.