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Sat 9 Mar 2019 01:02 AM

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How Dubai plans to bolster SMEs, strengthen economy

The emirate's move to speed up payment to SMEs will help develop their businesses and will ease their cash flow burdens

How Dubai plans to bolster SMEs, strengthen economy
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) represent 95 percent of all establishments in the emirate

Last week, Dubai’s government announced plans to expedite payments to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) operating in the emirate in a move that experts say will improve cash flow and help bolster the overall economy.

As part of the plans, the government will pay SMEs within 30 days instead of 90, which will result in approximately AED1bn ($435m) of additional liquidity for such companies, according to the UAE’s state-run WAM news agency.

Additionally, the plan calls for a reduction of insurance costs for SMEs from the current rate of between 2 and 5 percent to between 1 to 3 percent, with no impact on their eligibility for government tenders.

Another AED1bn ($272m) worth of projects is to be allocated for joint ventures between the public and private sectors. The Dubai government will also allocate 5 percent of its capital projects to SMEs to allow them to get projects worth up to AED400m ($109m).

The impact on SMEs

Among those who praised the move was Wamda Capital Executive Chairman Fadi Ghandour, who said it was “extremely important” for SMEs.

“They [SMEs] live and die by their cash flow, so that should ease their day-to-day pain of collecting cash and get them to focus on running their business and taking care of clients,” he told Arabian Business. “It also gets cash to be recycled much more quickly into the economy.”

Vic Bageria, CEO of Xpandretail

The announcement is also expected to ultimately lead to improved lending for SMEs on the part of banks – a long-running issue in Dubai and the wider Gulf region.

According to statistics shared at the recent World Government Summit, across the region SMEs attract only 7 percent of bank loans, despite the fact that SMEs account for about 90 percent of companies. In 2017, Mashreq CEO Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair argued that the low lending rates to SMEs are largely a result of the banks’ loss rates, which in the case of Mashreq stood at 20 percent.

“Bank lending to SMEs remains a small part of total loans and while this government initiative is welcomed, because it helps manage cash flow, it won’t change bank lending to SMEs overnight,” Trevor McFarlane, the founder and CEO of Emerging Markets Intelligence and Research (EMIR) said. “Although in the medium-term, it helps strengthen SMEs, thus making them more attractive to a banking sector that needs to be increasingly creative to capture growth.”

Business development

Similarly, Andrew Morris, a partner at the Dubai-based Banks Legal consultancy who advises businesses on corporate and business law in the UAE, said that the move will “inevitably” have a positive impact on SME’s business operations.

“A substantial reduction in debtor days will assist qualifying SMEs working on government projects to keep on top of their overheads and more easily invest in the development of their businesses,” he said.

Similarly, Vic Bageria, the CEO of Xpandretail and the chairman of the UAE-based Entrepreneurs Organisation, said that the improved cash flow will help smaller businesses and entrepreneurs to focus on the day-to-day running of their businesses as the banking pressure with the mismatch of working capital requirements will decrease.

“Overall, it will help strengthen SME balance sheets and allow them to do more business with the same capital base, which in turn will generate better cash flow and profits in the medium term,” he added.

Economic impact

The move is also expected to have a positive effect on the wider economy, in which SMEs account for more than 90 percent of the total enterprise population of the UAE.

Trevor McFarlane, founder and CEO of EMIR

“SMEs are the backbone of any economy and are key to ensuring economic growth, job creation and innovation,” said Rohit Garg, head of business banking, mortgage and remittances at Mashreq Bank.

“This move is in line with the government’s vision to support the growth of small businesses in the emirate as the sector represents robust opportunities for growth.”

McFarlane, for his part, said that SMEs constitute the “lifeblood” of the UAE’s economy. The plan, he added, must be seen within the wider context of government measures to reduce the cost of doing business in the emirate, which have recently also included changes to visa policies to bring in more tourists and investors.

“Any support to the SME sector will have a positive impact on private sector activity,” he added. “But these measures and the potential benefits should be seen as part of a greater recent reform package from the government aimed at stimulating growth, and not in isolation.”