Dubai's Wealth and the Greening of the Emirates

By Salloum, Habeeb | Contemporary Review, July 1995 | Go to article overview

Dubai's Wealth and the Greening of the Emirates


Salloum, Habeeb, Contemporary Review


The Arabian Gulf's main trading centre, Dubai, handles around a third of that region's $50 billion in non-petroleum trade. Called the 'Hong Kong of the Gulf', it is the Arabian Peninsula's leading entrepot - the last stronghold of anything goes capitalism. With annual per capita imports of more than $25,000, Dubai ranks among the world's busiest trading centres, serving a large and rapidly developing economic region.

Dubai is the second leading oil producer of the United Arab Emirates' seven states, but much of its wealth is founded on a free economy which is ever on the increase. Between 1986 and 1993, non-oil trade grew at an annual rate of more than 17 per cent to reach $17.5 billion.

In commerce, Dubai is fast becoming the principal city for business and trade in the oil-rich Gulf region. Almost every world shipping company sails into its huge ultra-modern harbour and more than sixty airlines stop in its international airport - second only to Tokyo in the number of daily transit passengers.

Situated between the East and West, the city has for centuries been a convenient stopping off point for global traders. Ever-increasingly prosperous and politically stable, this dynamic UAE state has a trading image established by being involved in commerce for many years.

Since the Medieval Ages, vessels, from the ancient dhows to today's huge merchant ships, have crowded the city's 10 mile long Creek. In the past, goods from the Far East, Indian sub-continent and Africa - a fair amount smuggled - were unloaded and carried by camel caravans to the desert hinterland and beyond.

Today, the pattern of trade has greatly increased and somewhat changed. Besides being an importer, Dubai has now become one of the major re-export centres in the world, serving a market of one billion people, covering the Middle East, the republics of the former Soviet Union, East and South Africa and the countries of the Indian sub-continent. The end of the Cold War has dramatically raised Dubai's contacts with the countries of the former Soviet Union, creating an influx of visitors who spend $1 billion annually in the UAE.

What has set Dubai on the road to progress and affluence is a buoyant and prosperous domestic market and the astuteness and entrepreneurial ethos of its people, developed from their long trading heritage. According to Sultan Ben Sulayem, Chairman of Dubai Port Authority, Dubai traders are shrewd businessmen who have always been able to trade well beyond the geography of the Gulf area.

This inherited ability for commerce by its people is complemented by the far-sightedness of its rulers who, when the modest revenue of oil began to flow in, used the wealth to build an excellent infrastructure for their state.

In addition, the government's enthusiasm in slashing red tape, which plagues businesses in many parts of the world, greatly facilitated the luring in of much foreign investment. Of course, what also helped immensely were that profits and incomes were free from taxation, foreign exchange controls were non-existent and there was a fully convertible currency.

Industrialists and all types of other businessmen wishing to trade, invest or establish factories will find that Dubai has excellent up-to-date telecommunication systems with the outside world. Telephone, telex and fax services are very efficient. There is direct dialling to 203 countries and major international couriers are well represented and offer competitive rates.

Sophisticated facilities of all kinds abound. There are a wide range of skilled labourers and a tolerant social environment in which to work. English ranks at par with Arabic and superb leisure conveniences, like the three golf courses, fine white-sandy beaches, top class accommodation, superb eating places, lively entertainment and spirited nightlife, ensure that investors rarely have difficulty in attracting suitable staffs from all over the world. …

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