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Dubai can help boost UK trade in the post-Brexit era, experts say

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  • The CEO of Emirati logistics company DP World said Jebel Ali Port’s unique facilities offer British businesses a chance to tap into new markets in Middle East, India, far-east and Africa
  • At a seminar hosted by the Arab British Chamber of Commerce, the head of the UAE-UK Business Council said he hopes talks between the UK and GCC on a free-trade agreement will begin soon

LONDON : Dubai and the wider UAE can help UK businesses reach a new potential export market of four billion people in India, the Middle East and Africa, according to a panel of experts.

Speaking during a trade seminar organized by the Arab British Chamber of Commerce, representatives of Emirati multinational logistics company DP World and the UAE-UK Business Council highlighted the unique opportunities offered by Jebel Ali Port in Dubai and its associated free zone.

DP World CEO Abdulla bin Damithan said the port and its facilities give British businesses the chance to tap into markets in the Middle East, India, the far-east and southern Africa.

“The unique thing about Jebel Ali Port is you will not find another place where there is a port, airport and free zone in the same area,” he said.

This set-up meant it was able to operate relatively unscathed during the COVID-19 pandemic and continue to play a vital role in global trade, he added.

In the aftermath of Brexit, the port can play a vital role as an enabler for deals between the UK and new markets, according to Damithan.

“We believe we’ll be able to open new windows of growth for UK businesses and industry; we are here to open new markets for UK,” he said.

“We are present in different parts of the world, we have more than 180 business units, we have logistics capability — we like to think of ourselves as trade enablers, not just a port or a free zone. We want to move cargo, with our logistics and shipping capabilities, from the factory floor to the customer’s door.”

Bradley Jones, executive director of the UAE-UK Business Council, said that Dubai and the wider UAE offer access to a market with huge potential for British businesses.

“We work very closely with both governments, as well as here in London with the UAE embassy and the Ministry of Economy in the UAE, and we work closely with the Department of International Trade in the UK,” he said.

“What we do is all about adding value to what’s happening at a government-to-government level. We don’t give export advice as such, the DIT are good at that already, but we talk about what’s happening in Dubai, what are the trends and opportunities.

“It’s an economy that’s diversifying at a very rapid pace; it’s investing heavily in skills and technology. It’s important to understand that story if you’re a British startup in (Artificial intelligence, Internet of Things) or edu-tech or medi-tech — there are opportunities for you in Dubai. It’s a matter of identifying the right economic zone and partners to try to help grow the company in the region.”

Referencing the possibility of a free-trade agreement between the UK and the Gulf Cooperation Council, Jones predicted that collaboration between Britain and the UAE on energy transition would play a big role in expanding links.

“The UAE has a really good story to tell on energy transition,” he said. “Only two weeks ago (the country) announced a pioneering partnership with BP to develop hydrogen capabilities in Teeside (in the north of England). Next year it will be hosting COP28 (the 2023 UN Climate Change Conference), and if you look at almost every industry in the UAE, decarbonization is a common thread that runs through them all, whether it’s the environment, manufacturing or logistics.

“The thing that underpins these opportunities is getting the trade framework right. Hopefully very soon we’ll be starting negotiations for a UK-GCC free-trade agreement. It’s never easy negotiating a free-trade agreement with six different countries, all of whom are developing at a different pace, but I think in parallel, the UK and UAE will negotiate their own side agreement.”

Bilateral trade between the UK and the UAE is worth billions of dollars and includes a wide range of products, including food and cars. Damithan believes this trade partnership has helped to cement the strong relationship between the two countries. He also thinks that the ambitions of Dubai, and the wider UAE, in terms of trade targets coincide with those of the UK.

“In Dubai we have an ambition to increase our foreign trade by 80 percent over the coming years,” Damithan said. “We call it the ‘Two Trillion Initiative,’ which is basically to create (trade) bridges between regions. We started with India and Africa and now we’re looking at UK.

“The vision behind the bridges is to offer an integrated network solution across geographies. The UAE is the largest domestic market in the region and the third-largest re-export market, so (within that) Dubai is perfectly positioned to provide the most efficient market access for manufacturers and exporters from the UK.

“We complement the UK’s £1 trillion ($1.26 trillion) export target by 2030, so I think it’s time we all collaborate to achieve that vision.”

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