The Report: Sharjah 2018

Sharjah has long played an important economic and cultural role in the UAE, and boasts one of the most diversified economies by regional standards, with no individual sector accounting for more than 20% of GDP.

Country Profile

Accounting for just over 3% of the territory of the UAE, Sharjah is the third-largest emirate, and has long played an important cultural and economic role in the region. Home to a number of principal commercial, educational and cultural institutions, Sharjah is also unique as an emirate in that it is adjacent to both the Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, on which it owns three exclaves: Kalba, Dibba Al Hisn and Khorfakkan. The latter is surrounded by the emirate of Fujairah and possesses a major east coast port in the form of the Khorfakkan Container Terminal – the only natural deepwater port in the region and one of the UAE’s major container ports. This chapter contains an interview with Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, Ruler of Sharjah and Member of the UAE’s Supreme Council; and interviews with Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, Chairperson, Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq); Pinarayi Vijayan, Chief Minister of Kerala, India; and Kairat Abdrakhmanov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan.

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The economy of Sharjah is highly diversified by regional standards, with oil and gas contributing less than 6% to GDP, and no individual sector accounting for more than 20%. The emirate has had particular success in developing its industrial and manufacturing sector through a network of free zones and industrial zones that continues to develop and expand, and it is one of the main industrial bases of the UAE. The authorities have also taken a range of measures to boost foreign investment flows, supported by an attractive national business environment and competitive advantages, such as Sharjah’s comparatively low operating costs. This chapter contains interviews with Marwan bin Jassim Al Sarkal, CEO, Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq); and Najla Al Midfa, General Manager, Sharjah Entrepreneurship Centre (Sheraa).

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As it works to build a knowledge-based economy, education has become an increasing priority for the UAE. The emirate of Sharjah is placing particular emphasis on innovation and quality as it positions itself as a centre for education within the federation and the wider region. This recognition of the centrality of education is not new, however, as Sharjah has a long history as a leader in this arena. Indeed, Sharjah was the site of the first modern school in the region, founded in 1930, as well as the first school for girls, established in 1955. It is now home to two of the Middle East’s highest-ranking universities, alongside a range of research, vocational and training institutes.

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Tourism & Culture

Sharjah’s tourism sector benefits from a range of attractions, including its year-round warm weather, beaches, museums, proximity to Dubai’s shopping facilities and status as a regional cultural hub. The sector faced something of an oil price-related downturn in 2015 but has been showing signs of resurgent growth and is attracting substantial investment in the form of a range of internationally branded hotel projects in the pipeline. The sector’s development and growth is being guided by Sharjah Tourism Vision 2021, launched in 2015, which aims to attract 10m visitors annually by 2021. This chapter contains an interview with Khalid Jasim Al Midfa, Chairman, Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority.

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Financial Services

Sharjah is home to four local banks and two insurance companies, with a banking market that is characterised by significant minority government ownership stakes in several key players, as well as a tendency for local banks to eschew the retail and small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) markets in favour of larger corporate and government-owned business. The emirate does not host a capital market of its own, but the government and several local entities are already – or are on the road to becoming – regular issuers of debt and sukuk (Islamic bonds). Thus far, the emirate has issued three sukuk, showing its interest in the instrument as a means to diversify funding sources. This chapter contains a roundtable with Varouj Nerguizian, General Manager, Bank of Sharjah; Sami Rashed Farhat, CEO, InvestBank; Ahmed Saad, Deputy CEO, Sharjah Islamic Bank; and Sheikh Mohamed bin Abdulla Al Nuaimi, Acting CEO, United Arab Bank.

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Industry & Energy

Concentrated in two free zones and 19 industrial zones, Sharjah’s industry and manufacturing sector benefits from the emirate’s low cost base, developed infrastructure and connectivity, and proximity to facilities in Dubai. As a result, Sharjah is one of the most important industrial and manufacturing centres in not only the UAE, but also the wider GCC region. The contribution of the oil and gas sector to Sharjah’s diversified economy is relatively small compared to the rest of the UAE. In terms of meeting its own needs, the emirate is working to secure more reliable energy supplies, while expanding and modernising its electricity generation and water desalination capacities. This chapter contains an interview with Hatem Al Mosa, CEO, Sharjah National Oil Corporation; and Khaled Al Huraimel, Group CEO, Bee’ah.

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Infrastructure & Transport

As the only emirate in the UAE to have ports on both the Gulf and the Indian Ocean, Sharjah is uniquely placed to take advantage of the region’s geographic position at the centre of international logistics lines. The emirate has long been a key aviation link for traffic between Europe, MENA and Asia, with the first airport in Sharjah opening in 1932. At the same time, Sharjah is also the land crossroads between the southern, northern, eastern and western emirates, with a string of important highways passing through its territory. These comparative advantages are being leveraged further as the emirate seeks to carve out a unique profile in a region well served by mega-airports, ports and roadways. This chapter contains an interview with Ali Salim Al Midfa, Chairman, Sharjah Airport Authority.

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Construction & Real Estate

With a host of real estate, major transport and infrastructure projects either being developed or in the pipeline, Sharjah’s construction sector is going through a busy time. Much of the new work is addressing previous shortages in areas such as gated and lifestyle communities, higher-end offices and retail premises, and more modern industrial estates. Sharjah has also begun to carve out a distinct profile on the global real estate property map. The emirate has committed to higher-end developments, while also widening ownership structures. It has grown both economically and demographically, and now offers its own much larger internal market, which is no longer so closely tied to developments elsewhere. This chapter contain an interview with Sheikh Sultan bin Ahmed Al Qasimi, Chairman, Basma Group; and Chairman, ARADA; and Raymond Khouzami, CEO, Al Thuriah Group.

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Rapid expansion is under way in Sharjah’s health care sector, as the emirate looks to meet the needs of both an expanding population and heightened demand for high-end medical services – changes that are highlighted by the opening of hospitals, clinics and pharmacies, as well as the development of the new Sharjah Healthcare City. As a result, the sector’s value will rise from some $2bn in 2016 to reach $2.4bn by 2019, according to the Sharjah Investment and Development Authority. This chapter contains an interview with Taher Shams, Managing Director, Zulekha Healthcare Group.

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Legal Framework & Tax

This chapter contains an overview of the legal and tax frameworks in which local and international investors operate in Sharjah, including a rundown of the free zones exempted from caps on foreign ownership and a summary of the new UAE-wide value-added tax of 5%. This chapter contains a viewpoint from Eslam Farouk and Nehad Farouk, Co-founders, Al FaroukInternational Intellectual Property Rights Management.

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The Guide

The guide contains listings of some of the leading hotels and resorts in Sharjah, as well as contacts for important government offices and services. It also contains useful tips and information for first-time or regular and business and leisure visitors alike.

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