‘No Protectionism In Dubai; We Want More Trade With India’: Dubai Chamber Chairman

Majid Saif Al Ghurair tells BOOM that ease of doing business has improved in India and Dubai based companies will like to partner in the Smart Cities project

Majid Saif Al Ghurair, Chairman, Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry

The Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry have said that the Indian government's ease of doing business policies have made it easier for the two countries to co-operate and meet the 2020 target of $100 bn in trade. Speaking in Mumbai to BOOM, Majid Saif Al Ghurair, Chairman of Dubai chamber said they are keen to co-operate with the Indian industry in the area of healthcare and education and the Indian labour force has nothing to fear as there is no protectionist policies in the Emirates. Over 2 million Indian workers are employed in the UAE and a slowdown across the Middle East has raised fears of job losses and remittances going down from the region.

Edited excerpt from an interview with Majid Saif Al Ghurair

1) What are the key trade areas you are looking at during this visit to India?

This visit we are looking for many opportunities. India is a big economy. They have proven their success in many of them and they can really internationalise their products and services all around the world. Traditionally we have had excellent relations with India, mainly due to proximity. We are only 2.5 hours away from here. businessess have been going on for many years between India and Dubai. Many Indians live in Dubai. Like any other economy there are ups and downs, change in policies, regulations. World economy is going through stages of how countries want to do business with each other. We are lucky we have two governments who want to do business with each other. Leaders from both countries are determined to do business with each other and have visited each other. That cascaded down to the business community and our govt is encouraging us to improve relations. They want us to look for best opportunities where we can do trade with each other.

2) What are those key sectors where you think India and Dubai could benefit from each other?

For UAE, food security always been an issue. We are sitting in a place where there is scarcity of water and desert climate. We are looking for agriculture as a main sector for co-operation. Another sector we are looking at is infrastructure. UAE has built world class infrastructure across different sectors. We want that experience to be used here in India. Also Healthcare is advancing very much. UAE govt spends billions of dollars to send patients overseas. So we feel why not send them to India if right kind of facilities are available. We are also a very young generation. We are looking for high class education. And education is pillar for our advancement in future.

3) So do you want to send students to India or want Indian schools to set up in UAE?

We would like to see both - good Indian schools to come and set up in UAE and our students can also come to your schools here and study in different education systems.

4) Increasingly the world is moving towards measures to protect local jobs. The UAE employs the highest number of Indian workers and many have faced job losses in recent years post oil economy slowdown. Isn't that a matter of concern for the chamber as governments become more and more protectionist?

All the locals are educated and have excellent jobs. And this is what has made Dubai and UAE what it is today. You have to be competitive. There is no protectionism. We are not going to protect anybody. Yes, we would like to educate our people, We are going to train them, we will give them all the opportunity to ensure they have a better standard of living. The government has various programs to support the local young generation - from education, from finance and we want them to rub shoulder with their colleagues and they become a role model for them. We have many programs for entrepreneurship and India also has such programs and we want to co-operate with India as there is huge potential.

5) CII has estimated Indo-UAE trade to hit $ 100 bn by 2020. Is that quite an ambitious target or are the countries on course to meet that target?

Its a very reasonable number and could go higher. Potential is big. We looking forward to see this number growing dramatically from where it is today. There is no limit and see more and more companies to use Dubai and UAE as a base for them.

6) Is this aggression also due to a slowdown in oil trade and prices remaining stagnant?

Many years back our government realised that we dont need to depend on oil for our income and we need to diversify our economy. We did that. Nobody thought some years back that Dubai will be a tourism destination. Today we receive a good number of tourists every year in Dubai. Again logistics hub - Our airport ranked second busiest airport in the world. Govt took very encouraging steps to develop this sector. Many years back if you asked any consultant to turn Dubai into a tourism destination, they would say that you do not have the offer, you do not have the product. Today we have the offer and we have the product.

7) India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi have pushed for building 100 new smart cities. What are the challenges you see when it comes to building smart cities?

The main challenge is the mindset of the people. Always when you try to do something new, there will be people who will say there are problems. You try it, you do it, establish it then later on you figure out how to massage it in a way it suits you according to your regulations. But if you don't do it, you don’t try it, you will never know what are the advantages and disadvantages. Same thing happened in Dubai. We established it. There were certain concerns from inland companies that it will affect their business, that cost structures are totally different. Later on the government came in and changed regulations to do it differently. But if you don't do it, you don’t start it, always somebody will have something negative about it and why not to do it.

8) A lot has been talked about ease of doing business improving in India. What is the experience of Dubai based companies when they approach the bureaucracy here?

Sometimes, it gives advantage to certain people if ease of doing business is not allowed as it prevents competition. And they may also lobby for it. But as easy you make it to do business, more you tempt companies to come and do business. It does not mean all will come, some will stay, some will get more time to see, understand the market. But at least they are on the ground here and understand the convenience and easy to do business. We see it in a lot of countries that when companies spend a lot of time to handle bureaucracy, their people will spend more time to deal with bureaucracy, then how much time will be left to handle their business? For the government, it is better to allow companies to handle their businesses rather than handle the bureaucracy.

9) So does that mean there is an improvement in doing business in India?

The mindset is totally different and environment changed. Some of the governments want to be the guardian of the people and want to handle their affairs. But as soon as they give this power to the people to handle their affairs, the result we see is amazing. Really, lift the control of the people and let them do the business they want to do it. We see these changes, less resistance to international companies coming and setting up businesses as this protectionism also sometimes works negatively for the country. You think you are protecting something, but actually you are not protecting them but you are killing that business. Competition is always right and I say to many governments- you have any time to interfere, to control, to change things if there is a wrongdoing. But don’t take it from the first step that anyone who is coming in has wrongdoing in their mind. So I need to stop them from work. Allow them to work, if there is a wrongdoing, you can enter and take action against them. The control is always in your hands.

10) Many rich Indians were using Dubai as a tax haven to save on taxes and route black money. The Indian and Dubai governments are now planning to exchange information to crack down on such individuals. How do you see this development and will it impact investments in Dubai in the short term?

Not at all. We cannot depend on irregular business. We didn’t establish our economy for irregular business. We want regular business. We look for a good citizen who will come and do business according to international norms and standards. And we will continue encouraging that.

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