OBG talks to Sheikh Ahmad Saqer Mohamed Al Qasemi, Chairman, Ras Al Khaimah Free Trade Zone (RAK FTZ)

Sheikh Ahmad Saqer Mohamed Al Qasemi, Chairman, Ras Al Khaimah Free Trade Zone (RAK FTZ)

Interview: Sheikh Ahmad Saqer Mohamed Al Qasemi

What are RAK FTZ’s goals for 2013, and how is your strategy developing to reach the objectives?

SHEIKH AHMAD SAQER MOHAMED AL QASEMI: RAK FTZ aims to be the highest quality and the most cost-effective FTZ in the region. To this end, our goal is to offer a solid product that businesses would choose to be a part of. We have built on this foundation since the zone was created, with unique business ideas, cost-effective packages and excellent support services for our tenants.

We have come up with new solutions for the wide variety of businesses that are looking to expand their operations in the Middle East or are starting a new company. By employing the latest technological innovations, we make conducting business easier, adding value to our support. We also provide multilingual client coordinators and reduce the red tape and processes for initial set-up. For example, we study and design agreements and packages with financial institutions. We also provide necessary infrastructure, which stimulates a growing family of businesses, industries, and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs).

What particular sectors do you expect to underpin the growth of RAK’s free zones in the future?

AL QASEMI: Change has been slow in coming, given the economic slump, but the UAE has been blessed in some ways. It is seeing growth in GDP levels and in overall economic performance. The population is increasing, and people are becoming more confident.

In 2012, 63% of our new registrations were in the commercial sector, 27% in consulting, 9% in general trading and 1% industrial – we expect all of these sectors to grow and drive the changes in 2013. In particular, in the retail market, high-end goods and food and manufacturing sectors are on the rise. We expect to see more companies in these sectors enter RAK, particularly big industries that would prefer to develop their own land or occupy warehouses. At the same time, environmental consciousness is becoming more pronounced given the natural disasters that we have seen around the world in recent years. Consultancies in these business sectors, as well as related financing, are also expected to grow.

In what way can the government enhance the impact of the FTZs on the wider economy?

AL QASEMI: The UAE government is already working on a variety of infrastructure projects, such as developing more roads and international airports, as well as providing necessary technology and businessfriendly laws that will attract investors and SMEs to relocate or set up businesses here. More investors and more new businesses mean increasing investments in the economy, and higher levels of employment. In this line, exploring business-friendly legislation that would make it easier for foreign nationals to bring in their businesses would also improve the situation.

Given the rapid growth of the emirate’s economy, what is your assessment of the potential for new forms of SME financing?

AL QASEMI: SMEs continue to play a pivotal role in our developing economy. To date, more than 7000 companies have signed up with RAK FTZ, and more than 80% of the businesses within our free zone are SMEs. That number is similar throughout the country as a whole. As such, it is only natural that free zones will continue to collaborate with financial institutions to design a variety of financing packages, micro-financing plans and low-cost investment plans, that can assist SMEs’ development.

We may also see more SME funds and centres being created to support and cultivate young business leaders and Emirati entrepreneurs in RAK. Another interesting project in support of this goal is a proliferation of incubation packages that are already in use by the Saud bin Saqr Programme for Young Business Leaders. This gives SMEs a small yet functional platform from which to take off. Whatever form it takes, the aim will be to support SMEs and give them a boost.

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