Africa's trade bloc is a massive opportunity for UAE businesses

Infrastructure gaps, a lack of investor-friendly regulation and high tariffs have remained as barriers for Africa's regional and international trade, writes Hamad Buamim President and CEO of Dubai Chamber
Africa's trade bloc is a massive opportunity for UAE businesses
Hamad Buamim is President and CEO of Dubai Chamber and Chairman of the ICC’s World Chambers Federation
By Hamad Buamim
Thu 05 Sep 2019 12:22 PM

Africa has long been a market of strategic importance to Dubai and the emirate serves as a gateway for African companies that are successfully leveraging the emirate to expand their global reach.

Yet, infrastructure gaps, a lack of investor-friendly regulation and high tariffs have remained as barriers for Africa’s regional and international trade, limiting the continent’s economic potential.

It is encouraging to see signs of progress emerging recently which have signalled a major shift in Africa’s economic outlook and growth momentum. The most important development is the launch of the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (ACFTA), a historic deal that has brought together most African nations creating the world's largest free trade area and uniting 1.3 billion people under a $2.5 trillion economic bloc.

If successfully implemented, the agreement and trade union would be game changing and boost Africa’s attractiveness as a trade market, investment destination and place to do business. However, African countries will work with its international partners to ensure that this major effort yields significant economic benefits.

This is where strategic trade hubs like Dubai can come in to play a major role in supporting Africa’s next phase of economic growth and development. Dubai’s strategic geographic location between Africa and Asia makes it an ideal partner in this regard as it has the ability to connect African exporters with China and India, the continent’s top trading partners, while the emirate can offer much needed foreign investment and expertise needed to scale up logistics and transport infrastructure.

The landmark trade detail comes into force at a time when Dubai’s economic ties with Africa are rapidly expanding. Africa’s non-oil trade with Dubai has been growing steadily over the last decade, accounting for 10.5% of the emirate’s total non-oil foreign trade in 2018.

Although trade volumes remain dominated by precious stones and metals, agricultural commodities, prepared foodstuff and machinery, there is tremendous potential to diversify the scope of bilateral trade and boost Dubai’s exports to African markets, especially in light of the recent commitment to reduce trade tariffs.

These prospects will be a key point of discussion on the agenda at the 5th Global Business Forum Africa (GBF) this November, a high-level event organised by Dubai Chamber that will see the participation of African heads of state, policymakers, business leaders, investors and industry experts.

The latest edition of the forum will explore a wide range of trends and factors shaping Africa’s development and showcase competitive advantages that Dubai can offer African companies that are looking to capitalise on emerging business opportunities.

This time around, the GBF has expanded its platform to focus more attention on the important role that startups are playing in enhancing economic cooperation between African countries and their global counterparts and developing innovative solutions that address existing challenges and fill market gaps.

Earlier this year, Dubai Chamber hosted its first-ever Chamberthon in Rwanda which brought together high-potential startups from the UAE and African to share market insights and develop the GBF Mentorship Program.

Since then, prominent business leaders have joined the program, pledging their commitment to mentor likeminded entrepreneurs and offer guidance and tools to help them succeed and grow. We look forward to welcoming the participating startups in Dubai at the GBF Africa 2019 and hearing their perspectives on how the Africa-UAE relationship is evolving and creating new business opportunities.

Fostering entrepreneurship is a key pillar of Dubai’s vision and a major focus of Dubai Chamber’s strategy. Africa has become a hotbed for innovation and thousands of startups that are utilising blockchain, artificial intelligence and other smart technologies to transform industries and meet the demands of the continent’s fast-growing middle class.

While radical progress will not happen overnight, the economic developments taking place at the moment are building a solid foundation for a more prosperous Africa. Through its network of representative offices in Africa, Dubai Chamber is well-positioned to support companies in the UAE that are keen to capitalise on business opportunities emerging across the continent.

Hamad Buamim is President and CEO of Dubai Chamber and Chairman of the ICC’s World Chambers Federation

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