How does the SCCI work to encourage business? What opportunities exist for foreign investors and businesses in Sharjah today?

AL MAHMOUDI: The Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI) is involved in many initiatives that promote the business climate in Sharjah and the UAE. On the international front, SCCI has launched the concept of trade centers. At the moment we are busy attracting different countries and setting up different trade centers in Sharjah. Currently, Sharjah hosts the Chinese trade center in the Middle East, the Romanian, the Egyptian, the Indian, and hopefully in the next few months we will also host the some additional trade centers. The trade center concept works as an incubator to SMEs coming from outside the UAE. Companies coming from outside into this region have different concerns: one of them is the legal structure and the other is the market itself, they are not sure whether there is a market or not. They are also concerned about the general business environment. The trade centers offer an umbrella for these companies to come and set up for two years to work under the umbrella of the government. In the trade centers, they do not need a sponsor and they do not need a partner so they come and work and do their business development and scope out the market. The trade centers also offer supporting services from typing to telecommunications to administrative. So it really works as a business center for companies, but this business center is under the umbrella of the government. Also, these companies receive a lot of support from the Chamber in terms of promotion. On the local front we have launched small and medium initiatives to support our small and medium companies in Sharjah. The initiatives we have work to promote our SMEs internationally through an internationalization program, where we take these companies to other potential markets like the CIS region, elsewhere in the GCC, or even Africa. We also consult these small companies who cannot afford to develop strategies or business plans. So we also help them through developing their organizational capability. In addition, we subsidize their participation in exhibitions.

How have the costs of doing business in the UAE changed in recent years?

AL MAHMOUDI: The cost of doing business in Sharjah, or in the UAE, has significantly come down over the past couple of years. The whole of the UAE is a very competitive market today. We believe Sharjah has a competitive advantage when the whole supply chain is put together. We believe that Sharjah has a very competitive edge to attract investment because living in Sharjah is inexpensive; everything from groceries, to going out, to working with your suppliers is inexpensive in Sharjah. The whole supply chain in Sharjah is very attractive keeping in mind the infrastructure that Sharjah has, whether it is airport, or port, or even the road system in Sharjah.

What are the reasons foreign investors should look to establish themselves in Sharjah as opposed to other emirates?

AL MAHMOUDI: I think the opportunities in Sharjah are immense. When you take into context the whole business climate of the UAE, Sharjah is the third largest emirate in the UAE. I would compare Sharjah’s GDP to that of Bahrain. So Sharjah is really significant when you talk about the emirates. The opportunities in Sharjah are spread in different areas. We have opportunities in the healthcare industry with the setup of the new healthcare city; there are already two hospitals that have been announced that are going to be built in Sharjah that are going to be worth nearly AED 1bn ($272m). There is investment in the power system by the federal government that is worth nearly AED 500m ($136m). There is upgrading of the infrastructure in the bridges and the roads that is also in the range of AED 500m ($136m). These are just some of the examples of investment opportunities in Sharjah. Locally, we have a lot of projects in education, social services, and hospitality. There are 20 mini-malls going to be built in Sharjah. Three of them are built already; this is a joint venture with Al-Futtaim City Centre. There are also new hotels being built in Sharjah. So there is a lot of business activity going on in Sharjah today. Sharjah’s brand positioning focuses on being the education, cultural, and industrial capital of the UAE. We in Sharjah believe that we have achieved a certain level of sustainable development or sustainability when it comes to economic development. We like to claim that we have significant activity going on in education since we have the University Village. We have attracted a good level of industry to Sharjah. Today, Sharjah hosts 35% of the UAE’s total industry. Additionally, Sharjah is known for being the art and culture capital of the UAE. In terms of social services, we have established the first family council in the UAE and it serves both the local and expat communities.

In what ways does the SCCI contribute to the leadership’s vision for Sharjah?

AL MAHMOUDI: The Chamber’s contribution to the leadership vision is to further enforce His Highness’ vision of making Sharjah the industrial capital of the UAE as well as attracting and working with the regional economies around us. Going forward, the SCCI will focus on building ties with the GCC countries as well as the Northern African countries and surrounding Middle Eastern countries. This is the geography where we believe that we have a competitive edge and we have the relationships in place and the experience.