Dubai-bashing hasn’t scared off British firms, says trade min

Lord Green says British companies still keen to expand in Gulf emirate post-downturn
Dubai-bashing hasn’t scared off British firms, says trade min
Lord Stephen Green, UK Trade and Investment Minister, said British firms are still keen to invest in the UAE
By Claire Ferris-Lay
Tue 20 Sep 2011 07:58 AM

Doom-laden
stories in the British press following Dubai’s debt crisis have not deterred
British firms from scouting for expansion opportunities in the UAE, the UK’s trade
minister said.

Lord
Green, the former chairman of HSBC, admitted the unpaid fees owed to British
contractors by government-linked entities remained a concern but said the issue
was resolving itself.

“I think
that [negative press] has subsided and we are past the point where Dubai was
very much in the spotlight a couple of years back. I think that’s subsided,” he
said in a phone interview from Abu Dhabi. “There have clearly been some issues
of that kind around [outstanding fees] but I think it is resolving itself. It’s
still around and yes of course those kinds of stories don’t help.”

British
contractors were badly hit by Dubai’s real estate crash, which saw house prices
in the emirate drop more than 60 percent from their mid-2008 peak.

More
than half of developments in the city were scrapped or put on hold in the wake
of the financial crisis, leaving construction firms scrabbling for cash as
project finance dried up.

At the
peak of the crisis, British firms were owed a reported $2bn in unpaid fees,
prompting the UK government and then business secretary Lord Mandelson to
express concern.

“Dubai
has to be conscious of the fact that how it resolves its problems will mean a
good deal for its reputation and how it secures investment from overseas,” Lord
Mandelson warned during a visit to emirate in February 2010. “It has to tread
carefully, openly, not too slowly – it has to reach an agreement with creditors
that is fair.”

The UAE
is the UK's largest market in the Middle East and North Africa and its 16th
largest in the world, according to government data.

Trade
between the two countries stood at £9bn ($14.1bn) in 2010 and was up 25 percent
during the first six months of this year. The two countries could meet their joint
trade target of £12bn by 2015 ahead of schedule, said Lord Green.

“Year-to-date
as of June it was running at about 25 percent above 2010. The number I have
used is $10bn for this year,” he said. “At the current rate of progress I think
we are likely to do [achieve the target] comfortably this side of 2015.”

The two
governments on Sunday hosted the second UK-UAE CEO forum aimed at boosting
trades between the two countries. The forum will meet formally every six months
and will look to target small-to-medium-size enterprises (SMEs) in particular,
said Lord Green.

“Both I
and the UAE government are very keen to see SMEs get more engaged in the
international markets, more British SMEs here and more Emirati SMEs
opportunities overseas, either in their own right or in partnership with other
companies,” he said.

“As in
so many countries around the world, it’s SMEs who generate much of the job
creation so we both have an incentive to encourage this and that will be a particular
focus of their work.”

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