The United Arab Emirates Today: UAE Ports of Dubai and Jebel Ali Help Make It World Trade Center

By Salloum, Habeeb | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 1995 | Go to article overview
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The United Arab Emirates Today: UAE Ports of Dubai and Jebel Ali Help Make It World Trade Center


Salloum, Habeeb, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


THE UNITED ARAB EMIRATES TODAY: UAE Ports of Dubai and Jebel Ali Help Make It World Trade Center

By Habeeb Salloum

The Arabian Gulf's main trading center, 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 serves a large, rapidly developing and oil-rich region.

Although Dubai also is the second largest oil producer, after Abu Dhabi, of the seven emirates comprising the United Arab Emirates, much of Dubai's wealth is founded on its ever-increasing commerce. Between 1986 and 1993, its non-petroleum trade grew at an annual rate of more than 17 percent to reach $17.5 billion.

Ships from more than a hundred shipping lines sail into its huge ultra-modern harbor and more than 60 airlines stop in its international airport--second only to Tokyo in the number of daily transit passengers.

Situated between East and West, the city has for centuries been a convenient stopping-off point for global traders. From earliest times its 16-kilometer (10 mile) long harbor, called "The Creek," has been a mooring place for ships ranging from the traditional wooden dhows still in use to today's huge merchant ships. In the past, goods were unloaded from the ships and carried by camel caravans to the desert hinterland beyond.

Today, the pattern of trade has greatly increased and profoundly changed. Besides being an importer, Dubai has become one of the major re-export centers of the world, serving a market of one billion people. It includes the Middle East, East and South Africa, and the countries of the Indian subcontinent. Most remarkable is the manner in which the end of the Cold War has increased 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 such progress and affluence is a buoyant and prosperous domestic market and the entrepreneurial heritage of its people. According to Sultan Bin Sulayem, chairman of the Dubai Port Authority, Dubai traders are shrewd businessmen who always have been able to trade well beyond the confines of the Gulf area.

This legacy of commerce is complemented by the far-sightedness of Dubai's rulers who, when the first modest oil revenues began to flow, used the wealth to build an excellent infrastructure for their emirate.

To lure foreign investment, the Dubai government also slashed the red tape which plagues businesses in many parts of the world. Profits and incomes are free from taxation, there are no foreign exchange controls, and the currency is fully convertible.

Entrepreneurs wishing to trade or invest and industrialists wishing to establish factories have found that Dubai has excellent telecommunications systems, with direct dialing to 203 countries. Major international couriers are well represented and offer competitive rates.

Sophisticated facilities of all kinds abound. There is a wide range of skilled laborers and a tolerant social environment in which to work. English ranks on a par with Arabic and superb leisure conveniences, like the three golf courses, fine white-sand beaches, first-class hotels, excellent eating places, a lively cultural life, and spirited nightlife ensure that investors have no difficulty in attracting suitable staffs from all over the world.

Topping all these drawing cards for investors is Jebel Ali, one of the largest free ports in the world. Joined with Port Rashid under the Dubai Port Authority, Jebel Ali's 67 berths, along with Port Rashid's 35 berths, have earned a reputation as the most efficient ports between the Far East and Europe. Built in the 1970s, they handle some 25 million tons of cargo annually, which in 1994 were carried in 8,633 vessels. The twin ports are the 14th largest in the world in terms of container activity, handling 1,880,000 containers annually.

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