By Sarah Townsend
Dubai free zone will target the lucrative ‘South-South’ trade corridor of Africa, Asia and Asia-Pacific as it embarks on 10-year growth strategy
Dubai International Financial Centre has unveiled plans to triple in size over the next decade by attracting firms from the fast expanding markets of China, India and Africa.
The financial free zone, which was established in 2004, wants to increase the number of domiciled financial firms from 362 in 2014 to 1,000 in 2024, it announced on Wednesday.
It plans to grow assets under management at DIFC from $17.4 billion to $250 billion in the next ten years, and firms to triple their cumulative balance sheet from $65 billion to $400 billion.
It wants to double the amount of leased space at the free zone from 2.5 million sq ft in 2014 to 5.5 million sq ft in 2024.
And it is targeting a trebling of the workforce from 17,860 people to 50,000 over the period.
In March, the DIFC reported double digit growth for 2014. Its workforce swelled 14 percent to almost 18,000, it revealed, representing its best year since 2008 before the financial crash.
Unveiling the ten-year strategy this week, Essa Kazim, DIFC governor and chairman of the board of DIFC Authority, said the free zone intends to “become a true global business hub – best in class”.
The DIFC has grown from just 19 firms when it launched in 2004 to 1,224 in 2014 from across the financial, legal and support services sectors.
From now until 2024 it will triple in size, Kazim said, by encouraging existing occupiers to grow – this is expected to represent around 30 percent of future growth – and attracting new firms in the asset management, wealth management and single family offices (SFO) space.
“We estimate that $7-8 trillion of assets is managed in total by the region and the opportunity is not fully leveraged. We need to attract firms to service that,” he said.
Crucially, the DIFC sees 50 percent of future growth coming from China and the surrounding Asia and Asia-Pacific region: the South-South trade corridor that stretches right across from Africa and possesses a combined GDP of $7.9 trillion.
“The potential is huge,” said Kazim. “We are not ruling out the West [in terms of encouraging companies to set up at DIFC], but we see Asia as our source of future growth.”
In a statement issued on Wednesday, the DIFC reiterated: “The centre places special focus on improving integration between Asian and Middle Eastern banks to upgrade regional trade and project finance and boost asset managers’ engagement across the region.”
Kazim said officials are travelling to Shanghai and Beijing in September to market the DIFC to Chinese companies. Meanwhile, DIFC Courts continues to seek an agreement with Chinese courts on mutual enforcement of judgments, as trading ties deepen between the two economies.
The DIFC also said it plans to develop its legislative and physical infrastructure to support targeted growth – though it did not specify any additional financial incentives or real estate developments in the pipeline at present.
Kazim told assembled press on Wednesday: “The unwavering support of our clients has made DIFC a tremendous success story in the last decade. The number of registered firms climbed 18 per cent to 1,225, with 242 new companies licensed in 2014 alone. The total workforce at the financial hub as of 2014 stood at 17,860.
“Going forward, we aim to enhance our services and product offerings towards boosting business and establishing new benchmarks. In line with the Dubai Plan 2021, DIFC’s strategy identifies the key engines of growth, focusing on new solutions and structural reforms…to eventually cement our position as one of the leading financial centres globally.
“The Centre is critically important to the emirate's ability to finance growth and create jobs by attracting global investors.”