By Megha Merani
Dubai Chamber CEO Hamad Buamim said protectionism is only a temporary measure
Protectionist policies can only work as a temporary measure and are not in line with the ideology that has established Dubai as a global business hub, Hamad Buamim, president and CEO of Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI), told Arabian Business.
In September last year, Mohamed Alabbar, the chairman of Emaar Properties and founder of retail platform Noon.com, called for new legislation that imposes 51 percent local ownership of e-commerce-related businesses, ranging from payment service firms to logistics companies, in order to protect the national economy from global giants such as Amazon.
“This is a big question [and] we are still discussing it in the chamber,” Buamim said during an interview, when asked what he thought of Alabbar's stance.
“But I am a strong believer in globalisation. Protectionism is only a temporary measure. You cannot fight it. The Internet is so big that if you do that people will find their ways around it.”
Alabbar said that foreign companies pose a danger to the UAE’s national economy. Referring to international players like Amazon as a “threat” to the local market, the Emirati billionaire said that the UAE should follow in China’s footsteps in protecting its national economy by retaining ownership.
However, Buamim said he believes that the entry of companies like Amazon into the market bring advantages too and upholds Dubai's status as a global business hub.
“I believe that Dubai is a big business hub, trading hub, logistics hub and I believe Dubai can benefit from these big players,” Buamim. “From one side it drives us to compete, but from the other side as well.
“For example, Amazon will not ship their goods from wherever they are in the world. They need a place to distribute. I'm aware Amazon is building huge investments in Dubai. They will be recruiting tens of thousands of people.”
While the US and Europe are known for imposing protectionism, especially in certain sectors like agriculture, steel and manufacturing, Buamim said the approach is “not sustainable”.
“I know [that] whoever is calling for these measures - they just want it temporarily so we can build-up our own capabilities,” he said.
“[But] I'd rather that we keep it as a playing field and we try to allow the big players. If you are a global city, you have to play with the global rules. I don't see protectionism as Dubai. I don't think the leadership of Dubai will buy it, frankly speaking. It's not what we stand for.”
Alabbar earlier also pointed out as an example that China has taken many measures to ensure that its economy is protected from foreign interference, such as enforcing regulations that ensure that Chinese companies or individuals have at least 51% ownership of e-commerce websites’ payment systems. Noon's competitor, Dubai-based Souq.com, was acquired by Amazon in July last year for $580 million.
However, Buamim said he believes there is enough space for everyone to operate successfully.