UAE, an attractive business destination

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There are over 600 Singapore companies, operating in diversified fields, doing business in the country.

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MODERN and forward looking United Arab Emirates (UAE) is among Singapore’s top investment destinations and a leading trading partner in West Asia. There are over 600 Singapore companies doing business in the UAE – operating in diversified fields such as infrastructure, real estate, communications, transportation, water treatment, information technology and trade, according to latest data from Enterprise Singapore’s Dubai office.

The UAE also hosts the largest concentration of Singaporeans in the region as there are about 3,000 of them currently living and working in the country. The interaction is both ways, with Singapore having welcomed over 80,000 visitors from the UAE last year.

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“Bilateral relations between Singapore and the UAE are multi-faceted, warm, and based on mutual respect to serve the interests of both counties. The bilateral relationship has steadily grown year by year in both scope and depth across various areas of cooperation,” says Shaikh Saleh Saif Al Sharqi, Chargé d’affaires a.i. Embassy of the United Arab Emirates to Singapore, in an interview with The Business Times on the occasion of UAE’s 49th National Day today.

The UAE celebrates Dec 2 as its national day, as on this date in 1971, the seven emirates combined and formed a union headed by His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of the modern UAE. Thus for the country, Dec 2, 1971, marks the beginning of a new era of success and prosperity in its history.

The UAE has been Singapore’s top trading partner in the region since 2012. Bilateral trade and investments have continued to grow in recent years. Total trade between the two countries reached US$21.3 billion last year. At last count, Singapore’s stock of investments in the UAE stood at S$3 billion, while UAE investments in Singapore were worth S$3.6 billion.

Last year, Singapore and the UAE signed a Comprehensive Partnership pact representing a shared desire on both sides to elevate ties and deepen bilateral cooperation in mutually beneficial areas. These areas include trade and investment, defence and security, and sustainable development.

Looking ahead, Shaikh Saleh says diversifying the areas of collaboration with Singapore is a key mandate of the UAE Embassy here. “Several discussions are taking place between Singaporean educational institutions and their UAE counterparts to broaden cooperation on the management of universities and public schools, curriculum development, teacher training, and research collaboration on future sciences such as AI, cybersecurity and big data. The Embassy is also facilitating business cooperation to encourage the growth of investment in both countries.

“At the same time, people-to-people relations remain a priority for the Embassy’s future agenda through virtual events, at least during the time of Covid-19, to establish communication between the people of the UAE and Singapore to enable them to learn about each other’s culture, history, and way of life, while providing a platform for future cooperation,” he adds.

Asked what more can be done to promote UAE-Singapore business relations, Shaikh Saleh says he would like to see UAE inward business delegations to Singapore. “When Covid-19 restrictions are lifted, frequent sector specific trade delegations from various Emirates should include Emirati businesses that are keen to enter Singapore. The AAA status of Singapore, strong governance structures, international connectivity, and a conducive business climate are major attractions for UAE companies that seek to expand in Asia.”

At the same time he would like various chambers of commerce and trade associations in Singapore to work closely with the UAE Embassy, Enterprise Singapore, and the UAE Singapore Business Council (UAESBC) to organise outward business delegations in specific sectors that are being promoted by the UAE Government. The business council was set up in March 2018 to build a bridge between the two countries for B2B connectivity. It can partner with the Singapore chambers and trade associations in promoting trade and investment.

Shaikh Saleh says that B2B matching is important for achieving maximum results in promoting greater trade and investment between the two countries. To achieve this objective, the trade association and business chambers in both countries must collaborate closely so that respective members can be matched to leverage business opportunities.

Meanwhile, in view of the Covid-19 situation, webinars can be conducted jointly between UAESBC and the UAE and Singapore chambers of commerce and trade associations to promote greater knowledge and understanding of the opportunities in both countries. This will lay the foundation for trade and investment activities when Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.

Shaikh Saleh says the particular areas that Singapore businesses should explore include: F&B; technology for food and agritech, medical tech, smart cities, artificial intelligence and robotics; sustainable energy; engineering and fabrication, particularly in the oil, gas and marine sectors; urban planning, project management and other services; oil and petrochemical related services; healthcare and education.

The estimated 600 Singapore companies operating in the UAE are located both outside and inside free zones, and are also present across several Emirates, including Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Fujairah and Sharjah.

Surbana Jurong, Sembcorp, ST Engineering, and the Meinhardt Group are some of the largest Singapore companies that have been investing in the UAE. However, leaders from both countries believe that more can be done to increase economic cooperation in complementary sectors, as both countries could leverage existing engagement platforms to achieve this goal. Singapore is the first non-West Asian country to sign a Free Trade Agreement with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which is a political and economic alliance of six Arab countries.

Shaikh Saleh highlights that there are 16 major UAE companies operating in Singapore. The list includes names like ADNOC Marketing International Ltd Singapore, Emirates Bank International NBD PJSC, ENOC Singapore, First Abu Dhabi Bank, Horizon Singapore Terminals Pvt Ltd, Borouge Pte Ltd, Emirates Airlines, Etihad Airlines, and Al-Futtaim Group.

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Global Foundries, one of the biggest UAE companies in Singapore, employs around 6,000 Singaporean and foreign workers. Dnata employs more than 3,000 Singaporean and foreign workers. The signing of the Comprehensive Partnership pact between Singapore and UAE last year is expected to boost the number of their companies operating in the other country.

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