Interview: Nasser Alsowaidi
What can be done to balance high levels of public investment and private sector participation?
NASSER ALSOWAIDI: Early on the government of Abu Dhabi recognised the importance of engaging the private sector in the development process. Indeed, the presence of a dynamic private sector is considered one of the cornerstones of the public policy agenda and is a key element of the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030. I firmly believe the government is not competing with the private sector; however, the withdrawal of public investment from productive sectors should be gradual and should coincide with a strong private sector.
In recent years the Abu Dhabi government has made efforts to strengthen the role of the private sector in the development of the economy via the issuance of legislation that facilitates private activities, as well as through investments in infrastructure that help to provide the necessary opportunities for creating a self-perpetuating, private-sector-led economy. As a part of the efforts to boost the role of private firms in the emirate’s economy, the government is now working on a multifaceted plan, including enhancing the investment environment, facilitating access to finance and providing a solid basis for public-private partnerships.
How is foreign investment legislation being developed to remove administrative obstacles?
ALSOWAIDI: The rapid pace of economic development in the UAE has necessitated a constant upgrade of the federal legislative framework, as Abu Dhabi has long realised the importance of a healthy legal environment for a flourishing economy. Thus, we are currently working on upgrading legislation, especially with regard to the development of the investment climate, in a bid to better address investment issues and regulate the relationship between all parties. The new law on foreign investment is looking to remove large parts of the regulatory and administrative obstacles, and is aimed at creating a unified regulatory framework for foreign investment in terms of regulating investment procedures, registration and licensing. The law deals with the advantages and tax exemptions for foreign investors, as well as their rights and obligations.
Several other laws are also being prepared or reviewed at the moment to provide a supportive legal framework for businesses, in line with the UAE Vision 2021 and Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030. Draft bills on competition, arbitration, certificate of origin, industry affairs organisation, dealing with commercial fraud, industrial property law, federal law on organisation of the auditing profession and federal law on commercial firms are already being reviewed by the relevant authorities.
How is the government supporting the diversification of the heavy industry sector?
ALSOWAIDI: Abu Dhabi has made good progress in the initial stages of industrialisation. Revenues from hydrocarbons have been used to develop large-scale anchor industries, which are dependent on oil and gas as feedstock. Currently, we are moving to the second phase of industrialisation, creating strategies that will generate a diversified, dynamic and self-perpetuating, private-sector-led industrial sector.
This is happening through policy adjustment aimed at reducing the government’s role and creating an environment that incentivises engaging in the diversification programme. To accelerate large-scale industrial production, the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development (ADDED) has prepared the Abu Dhabi Industrial Strategy (2011-15), which aims to develop an efficient and competitive industrial sector.
A key component of the strategy is to set up leading industrial zones in Abu Dhabi. To separate industrial regulatory affairs from development and operational functions, the emirate’s Executive Council has recently approved the establishment of an industrial development bureau under the umbrella of the ADDED. The bureau will serve as the reference point for industrial development and will oversee the implementation of Abu Dhabi’s industrial strategy, monitoring performance.
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