Interview: Mohammad Helal Al Muhairi
Given slower growth projections for many G8 nations, in what regions is Abu Dhabi seeking stronger two-way trade and investment ties?
MOHAMMAD HELAL AL MUHAIRI: The slower growth projections in the G8 countries, especially in Russia, Canada, Japan and to some extent in Italy, have shifted Abu Dhabi’s focus to India, South-east and Central Asia, and to Eastern Europe among other regions. These are places where the chamber sees many profitable investment opportunities for our 100,000-plus member companies, given the availability of large pools of relatively inexpensive semi-skilled workers. All of these regions and countries are net oil importers and have benefitted immensely from the fall in the price of oil, which will eventually lead to improvements in the international competitiveness of these countries. India is a particularity lucrative market for Abu Dhabi private sector companies given its ambitious economic development plans, especially in the manufacturing and infrastructure sectors. To promote stronger two-way trade and investment ties with these regions, the chamber has established representative offices in Singapore and in South Korea, and four further offices are currently in the process of being established in India, China, Serbia and Tajikistan.
In an era of reduced government income, to what extent will there be an even greater impetus to engage with the private sector?
AL MUHAIRI: As highlighted in Abu Dhabi’s short-term (2016-20) and long-term (2010-30) development plans, the private sector is envisaged to be the key driver of a market-style economy in the future. Naturally, the fall in the price of oil has reduced government income and the share of the oil sector today is only 51% ($140bn) of GDP compared to 80% of the economy only 20 years ago. There has always been a genuine desire by the government of Abu Dhabi to increase the share and the role of the private sector, and the recent fall in the price of oil has actually contributed towards the attainment of this objective by increasing the competitiveness of the trade, transportation, and logistics sectors in which the private sector has always played a leading role. At the same time, lower government income has accelerated the establishment of an appropriate institutional, regulatory and legal framework for public-private partnerships, especially in the construction, transportation, logistics, manufacturing and tourism sectors.
What plans have been developed to provide a more prominent platform for the private sector and create a dialogue between entities?
AL MUHAIRI: The ADCCI is the voice of the private sector, and it is also the primary means by which their concerns are elicited. The chamber then conveys these issues to the government. We have designed a very modern platform for dialogue with the private sector, adopting the new “embedded-autonomy” approach in which the private and public sectors are placed together on a level playing field. To this end, we have established and operated five sectoral committees, namely, industrial, trade, services, professional and real estate committees. These are based on a truly open dialogue between the chamber and private companies from these sectors whereby we genuinely attempt to address their concerns. Perhaps the most important market condition at work is the genuine intention of the government to promote competition between private and public sector companies. This condition is repeatedly stressed to us by the government. They want to establish a truly competitive market structure in all sectors of the Abu Dhabi economy, which is a precondition for any successful diversification strategy in the long run.
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