On June 7, Ras al-Khaimah (RAK) will host the Iraq First International Convention for the Development of Small and Medium Enterprises. The event, hosted by Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Crown Prince of RAK, is organized by Iraq First, a non-profit organisation set up by Kuwaiti KGL Investments. The goal is to "bring together the provincial governors and entrepreneurs from across Iraq and international investors".
The event is the latest effort from RAK authorities to raise the international profile of the emirate. The government and several RAK-based institutions, such as the Ras al-Khaimah Investment Authority (RAKIA) and the RAK Free Trade Zone (RAKFTZ), have embarked on ambitious "business diplomacy" campaigns aimed at reaching out to foreign countries. The effort has been directed at some unconventional targets.
In April of 2007, for instance, the RAK authorities received the president of the Puntland State of Somalia, M Mohammed Musse Hersi. Puntland, located in northeastern Somalia, declared itself an autonomous state in 1988 and, unlike other regions of Somalia, it has enjoyed a relative stability since then. A series of memoranda of understanding (MoUs) were signed, including an agreement to set up an energy company, Puntland Hydrocarbons Development, to kick-start exploration and development activities in Puntland. The following month, an RAK government delegation visited Puntland, where it took part in the placement of the first stone of the Puntland Livestock Quarantine facility. The facility, which will be a joint venture between the RAK government and Saudi-based Al Jabri Trading, is highly significant for the state of Puntland. Mutton livestock exports are one of Somalia's main sources of income, but Somali producers have been barred from key markets in the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) area, Malaysia and other Asian countries, due to a lack of international standard quarantine facilities in the country. The new facility should open within three months.
RAK also enjoys privileged ties with India, a relationship that the authorities have historically been careful to maintain, through regular visits, conferences and investment promotions. In one of the latest developments, a MoU was signed in April 2007 between RAKIA and the government of the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. According to the terms of the agreement, RAKIA will team up with Indian-based, state-owned company Tidco, to develop two mega-townships in Coimbatore and Kancheepuram. The Coimbatore project, spread over 1000 acres, will feature over 5m sq ft of industrial and commercial space for the information technologies industry, in addition to residential areas, shopping malls, spas and a hotel. The second project, a 500-acre marina, will focus on high-end living and leisure, with water sport facilities, a golf course and entertainment areas. The total investment, which will total $4.8bn, has the potential to create as many as 65,000 jobs in the region, according to RAKIA.
Lastly, on June 3, an agreement was reached between RAKIA and the authorities of Guangdong Province, China, to further promote industrial trade ties between the two regions. Among other things, it was decided that the production capacity of the RAK Ceramics plant at Gao Yao City would be expanded. This 133,000sq m site, which currently produces approximately 14,000 sq m of ceramic tiles per day, caters mainly to the Chinese market but also to Far Eastern countries, Australia, Europe and the West Coast of the United States. That plant, which was set up in 2002, is only one of RAK Ceramic's several factories abroad; the company also has production facilities in Bangladesh and Slovakia.
While RAKIA has been busy developing investment abroad, the RAKFTZ, on the other hand, has been instrumental in attracting foreign investors to the Emirate. Companies from over 100 countries already operate there, and recently, the RAKFTZ has been reaching out to several countries, such as the Netherlands, Germany and Egypt, by meeting their business councils and organizing joint business conferences. On June 5, Liu Yajun, head of the Investment Promotion Agency of the Chinese Ministry of Commerce, toured the Khor Khuwair industrial facilities of the RAKFTZ to explore investment opportunities in the Emirate.
Most recently, RAKFTZ signed a MoU with the Kerala Chamber of Commerce - the first it has ever signed with an Indian chamber of commerce. According to the agreement, the Kerala chamber will "actively promote the RAK Free Zone's various investment schemes among the Kerala business community". This should help further expand the number of Indian businesses in the zone, although they already represent around 30% of the total number of companies active there. This figure includes some heavyweights, such as bus and truck manufacturer Ashok Leyland.
In its next promotion effort - this time directed at the Far East - the RAKFTZ will participate in the South Korea Forum on Investment Opportunities, which is taking place in Seoul on June 7 to 9.