What is your economic develop strategy for the emirate? What are your key objectives?
The starting point is to assess what we do have and what we don’t have. We are part of the seven emirates, part of the Gulf, part of the Arab world, part of the Muslim world. We live in the centre of the energy world. We are in the centre of the world generally – it is 12 hours to New York, 12 hours to Sydney, nine to Tokyo, so we are a great place for air routes.
We have a very good location. We have almost 360 days a year of sun so there is good potential for tourism. We have beautiful beaches, beautiful sand dunes and fantastic mountains. We are developing our mountains. There is a 15 degrees temperature difference in the mountains – in the summer they provide clean, fresh air. If you live here you can go there in half an hour and feel up there as if you have gone to Lebanon just by driving. So we intend to take advantage and develop this great potential to allow people to either live there or enjoy going there, by creating resorts, hotels, residential facilities and ski slopes.
What we don’t have is oil. So what we want to be a place by choice for investors. Our key objective is to diversify the economy first of all.
We need to create a new lifestyle. And for that we have created Gateway City, a new community. It’s a city for the people – very user-friendly, with pedestrian highways, where people can enjoy themselves and walk around. It has been masterplanned and we are developing it now. The idea is to create a superior quality of life, free of the pollution and traffic that causes stress and is actually an economic impediment. We have a responsibility to create a more efficient atmosphere, a cleaner atmosphere. And of course we are implementing a green building code. We to become a place for all the talent from all of the world to visit and enjoy.
Ras Al Khaimah has some initial successes in some of the industries, such as with RAK Ceramics, as well as in the cement and the building materials areas. We would like to use that as a stepping stone for even greater industrial success. Any entrepreneur or investor who wants to come to Ras Al Khaimah will find a very compelling argument, the same reason that RAK Ceramics succeeded and exports all over the world. We are saying come here, join in and become successful. So I am happy that we have foreign companies that have come and registered in Ras Al Khaimah.
What role do you see FDI playing in your economic development plans?
Here we don’t differentiate between local and foreign investors, because the same rules that a foreign investor wants is the same thing that a local investor wants.
Any country that aspires to create wealth has to attract the entrepreneurs – they are the wealth creators. We want to create and encourage our own entrepreneurs but at the same time we want to bring those talents from overseas. Business has no home; it flies where conditions are right for it and we are truing to create that kind of platform here.
How do you convince investors to come to Ras Al Khaimah instead of Dubai or somewhere else?
I don’t believe that there is a competition between us and other locations. I think it is the reverse. One year back we heard the bad news of what was happening in America, oceans apart from us. Now we understand we are connected – that wave hit many countries. So a good event in another part of the world is good for all. This negative zero-sum-based competition is not appropriate for any successful country. Yes we may compete with another successful country in a sense, but that country will become a business partner – it’s a business opportunity. If there is a development today in, say, Kuwait, it means it is an opportunity for us to sell them something. If we say they compete it’s only because we fail, not them.
I am very happy when I see good moves in Abu Dhabi or Dubai, because it means it’s an opportunity for us. After all, Abu Dhabi and Dubai are our emirates too. Actually the whole world is our country.
What effect do you expect the global economic slowdown will have on the UAE, and on Ras Al Khaimah specifically?
We will be affected – the slowdown will affect everybody – but it is a great opportunity because it teaches us the essence of going back to basics. Mathematics is universal, it’s everywhere, it can’t go broke. Certain business rules have to be respected. For us we have to ask ourselves ‘what is the thing that makes sense to do in our country and still compete and prevail?’ The answer is that there is plenty we can do.
If humanity manages this crisis well it will not be as bad as it could be, but if we are held back by it, it’s our mistake for making it our destiny. There some good things we can achieve – we can build industry, we can improve our competitiveness, we can still make some common decisions, and we can be prudent as well. Business is not about ego, it is about adhering to principles. We cannot defy this whole economic slowdown but can adapt to it and help become part of the solution.
What is your outlook for RAK’s economy for 2009?
Over the past five years, we have achieved about a 16% growth rate. Last year it was 18%. Next year, I would expect double-digit growth again. We can’t insulate ourselves from the rest of the world, from the rest of the emirates, but the world has reacted positively to the economic crisis in my opinion.
Our country has reacted positively – we have insured the depositors, a great start, a great move, and the government has started depositing in the banks to give some liquidity. That means we care about our country and we trust in our country.
And what about inflows of foreign direct investment?
We will still see investors coming. After all, good businessmen know in one year’s time the picture will be different. If you want to build a hotel it takes a few years, so are you going to base your decisions on the present? You make a factory that will last for ten years.
These companies have a different perspective. And here we want people who know what they are doing. Of course we have to accept slower investment but it means we have to put in more effort to select the new partners who will come here. It’s not like everybody in the world is unemployed – there are people working, there are companies working and companies are making money.
So it’s very important to promote Ras Al Khaimah and differentiate ourselves. But we are a small country – we cannot afford to have all the world to come. We have to be selective.
How can you differentiate yourselves?
That is simple. We have very competitive costs, a very liberal policy in terms of employment – you can hire people from anywhere, you have no restrictions – a very hospitable free lifestyle for people, and zero income tax. If you want to travel to any part of the world it is very easy from here. Logistics wise, Ras Al Khaimah is fantastic.
The good thing about our country here is we’re not just Ras Al Khaimah. Look what other emirates are doing – they are helping us too to create success.