By Megha Merani
As the new chairman of the World Chambers Federation, Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI) President and CEO Hamad Buamim is ready to tackle new challenges and bring new ideas to enhance global trade
"It was our aspiration to lead and now here we are,” says Hamad Buamim, President and CEO of Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI), as he gazes outside of his office window at the abras sailing along the bustling Dubai Creek. “We are overlooking the waters of old Dubai with a futuristic and ever-growing skyline in the background, dwarfed by the Burj Khalifa – a symbol of the emirate’s remarkable economic progress.”
Buamim recalls once watching a television interview with Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, which inspired him to aim higher and adopt a vision to make Dubai Chamber the best chamber of commerce in the world.
“He (Sheikh Mohammed) was asked what do you want the city to be and he said ‘I want Dubai to be number one not in the region but in the world’,” he says.
It’s that “can-do” attitude which has helped Buamim transform Dubai Chamber into the successful organisation that it is today.
A lot has changed since Buamim first joined Dubai Chamber in 2006. For one, the Chamber has expanded its international presence rapidly and now operates 10 representative offices across the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Latin America and the CIS region, while membership has grown to exceed 231,000, making it one of the largest membership-based chambers of commerce in the world.
This year, Buamim added another milestone to his stellar career with his recent appointment as the chairman of the World Chambers Federation (WCF), the International Chamber of Commerce’s unique and truly global forum uniting a network of 12,000 chambers and their respective business communities. Upon assuming his new role on January 1, Buamim has already proposed a new 100-day action plan and future-ready framework which has several aims, including eliminating barriers to global trade, strengthening the position of the WCF as facilitator of commerce, creating smart business solutions, and enhancing competitiveness of chambers of commerce around the world.
When we bid for the World Chambers Congress, our aspiration is to align it with the vision of Expo 2020 and the vision of Dubai
“The thing about chambers of commerce is, because they are 400-year-old organisations, a lot of them tend to be like museums where it is nice to look at the past,” he says. “But these are not the entities for the future. We want to change that. When we bid for the World Chambers Congress, our aspiration is to align it with the vision of Expo 2020 and the vision of Dubai, where we’re thinking about how to serve the businesses of the future.”
As Buamim sees it, there has never been a more important time to work towards a more open and inclusive system of global trade and such efforts are needed to counter protectionist sentiment that has been emerging in a number of developed countries in recent years.
“By embracing globalisation and opening its economy to the world, Dubai has created new possibilities and laid the groundwork for sustainable growth. I think that other countries and cities can learn important lessons from the emirate’s success story,” he says.
With technology disrupting business models all over the world, Buamim stresses that businesses have no choice but to change. “Chambers have to adapt to support the changes that businesses require,” he says. “We want to have a model that will evolve into Chamber 4.0, and one that ensures our competitiveness as we navigate the Fourth Industrial Revolution.”
Drawing on the experience of Dubai Chamber, Buamim highlights the importance of adopting innovative technologies and solutions that add value to businesses operating in Dubai. As part of its own 4.0 transformation, Dubai Chamber was the first entity in the Middle East to introduce the ATA Carnet system, referred to as the passport for goods.
“For example, today, 30 percent of our members can apply and get their certificates without our interference and they can do it 24 hours, any day of the week, and they can print it in their offices,” Buamim says. “Within the next year or so, we will get to 85 percent. This is done for the first time and there is no other chamber in the world that’s doing this.”
Dubai Chamber has stepped up its advocacy efforts in recent years with the aim of ensuring a favourable business environment in the emirate. The chamber made several policy recommendations on reducing the cost of doing business in the emirate in line with the goals of Dubai’s new economic stimulus plans.
The cost of doing business has remained a key issue for companies in Dubai over the last few years, Buamim notes, adding that the matter was brought to light through surveys conducted by Dubai Chamber which track and analyse business sentiment and market conditions in the emirate.
Dubai has created new possibilities and laid the groundwork for sustainable growth
“Feedback from our members and the businesses is extremely valuable as it helps us make policy recommendations that protect their interests and enhance economic competitiveness,” says Buamim, adding that Dubai Chamber’s dialogue with the government is playing a crucial role in supporting the private sector.
To probe further, the chamber commissioned a study evaluating the cost of doing business in Dubai from 2012 onwards. The report revealed that while direct business costs recorded a hike due to some government departments increasing fees, companies were also saddled with new indirect costs as part of compliance.
“At the end of 2017, we went to the government with this study that showed the trend of revenues and costs – both direct costs and compliance costs. They realised a big fact that nobody knew before this study – that during this period, there was a large percentage of laws impacting businesses in Dubai that had a direct impact on costs.”
Despite Dubai’s record-breaking achievements and milestones, there is always room for improvement, according to Buamim, who is not one to sit back and accept the status quo. The stimulus plan was a giant step in the right direction, but more can be done to enhance the emirate’s global competitiveness, Buamim says.
“We want things to be faster. I think we need to utilise the study and continue simplifying regulations. To be competitive, you have to produce the best products and services at the lowest prices. I believe there are still opportunities to reduce (costs).”
I strongly believe the Expo is not only an event but a phenomenon that will change businesses
One opportunity, Buamim believes, is for the government to adjust costs in lieu of value-added tax (VAT) collection. The introduction of VAT is expected to add an estimated $3.3bn in new revenues to the UAE in 2018. This figure is forecast to reach $5.4bn by 2019.
“The year (2018) was a difficult year, no doubt, and one of the elements of the year was the implementation of VAT,” Buamim says. “The government was really going through a learning curve. It took them a few months to adjust a lot of their practices, and also for businesses to understand how to deal with these things.”
Commenting on the impact of VAT on the business community, Buamim says he believes that the difficult part is over, and he expects the implementation of a number of business-friendly measures to bring about positive changes in the coming years.
Looking ahead, Buamim is optimistic about Dubai’s economic prospects as the emirate strengthens its reputation as a competitive destination for businesses and prepares for Expo 2020 which he describes as a catalyst for growth that will transform the city in many ways. The emirate’s tourism, hospitality, logistics, aviation and retail sectors are expected to benefit the most from the high number of visitors who will attend the mega event.
“I strongly believe the Expo is not only an event but a phenomenon that will change businesses,” Buamim says. “It’s not six months to sell and buy. For us, it’s changing the business model of Dubai. We want Dubai to be the open platform for a lot of things to be tested and a lot of future ideas to be implemented. I see this as not only a great networking opportunity but as a place to attract businesses to Dubai and utilise it for the whole region. As long as Dubai continues to be the meeting point for all of these people and businesses to serve the region around us, I believe that businesses will continue evolving.”
Brazil (Sao Paulo launched in 2007; Rio de Janeiro launched in 2012)
• Sao Paulo (GRU): daily Emirates A380 flight and four times a week utilising a Boeing 777 flight
• Rio de Janeiro (GIG): daily Boeing 777 flight (changing to five times a week on March 7, 2019 as per the network announcement release)
• SkyCargo: Viracopos
Argentina (launched in 2012)
• Buenos Aires (EZE): daily Boeing 777 flight (changing to five times a week on March 7, 2019, as per announcement)
Chile (launched in 2018)
• Santiago (SCL): Four times a week utilising a Boeing 777 flight
• SkyCargo: Quito
Dubai Chamber is making moves to introduce the emirate to the world
Dubai has been taking huge steps to increase its trade tied with South America – spearheaded by the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry (DCCI). In February 2017, the DCCI launched its first representative office in Sao Paulo. A year later, it announced it would be opening offices in Argentina and Panama. All this is part of a massive, almost $30m campaign to raise awareness of trade and investment opportunities in the emirate.
The cash will be spent over a ten year period with food security, logistics and tourism being the target sectors. Brazil is the UAE’s largest trade partner in the region, worth $3bn – that’s a tenfold rise between 2000 and 2015. Mexico – the second biggest – has notched a 473 percent increase in bilateral trade flows to $519m by 2016. A fair chunk of the beef, poultry, cereal and refined sugar reaching the UAE originates from Brazil, Argentina and Mexico. But all this only amounts to 3 percent of the total Dubai trade. According to Oxford Business Group, the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre is hoping to double the figure to 6 percent by 2022.
Latin America has quickly become a market of strategic importance to Dubai, and a continent which DCCI continues to explore as it steps up its efforts to strengthen ties with key public and private sector stakeholders across the fast-growing region.
Hamad Buamim, President and CEO of Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said last year: “Latin America is an economic powerhouse, which offers a great deal of trade and investment potential for companies in Dubai.”