Dubai Exports, an agency of the Dubai Department of Economic Development (DED), in partnership with Invest France conducted an Islamic Financial Services Trade Mission to France. The Trade Mission included leading UAE companies in all areas of the Islamic Financial sector from advisory firms and specialists in structuring of products to Shariah scholars and investment banks.
Engineer Saed Al Awadi, CEO of Dubai Exports, commented, “The principle aim of this trade mission is to ensure that our firms are able to capitalize on global opportunities in the sector. As such we plan to conduct similar missions to Canada which is considering regulatory changes to its taxation laws to incorporate Islamic financial services as well as Indonesia which is home to the world’s largest Muslim population of over 130 million people.
“All of these missions seek to showcase Dubai’s capabilities as the leader and pioneer in Islamic Finance. Dubai which has dedicated financial clusters and markets has shown that it can be innovative through the development of new Shariah compliant products to meet the needs of an ever increasing and sophisticated investor,” he added.
Islamic finance is one of the recent segments in global financial services with the first formal bank being established in 1975. Despite its short history it has grown remarkably fast and today accounts for assets worth over US$700b provided by more than 300 financial institutions across 75 or so countries.
It is expected that the growth of Islamic financial services will continue to grow over the foreseeable future as it moves away from it traditional captive markets of Islamic countries. In recent years a number of countries have embraced Islamic Finance and made the necessary regulatory taxation changes so as to treat it at par with conventional banks. These changes have allowed Islamic financial institutions to be established in new countries and thereby increasing its market coverage.
For instance, in April 2009, France initiated a programme to change its taxation regime so as to accommodate Shariah compliant contracts. In the same year, it also amended Article 2011 of the French Civil Code which relates to the setting up of trusts. This is a significant change towards the issuance of sukuks as well as other Islamic products.
“With such changes in the French regulatory system it was natural that we target the country” commented Al Awadi. He also added that, “I strongly believe that France with an established financial sector can play a significant role in Islamic Finance within the wider European region. To this end we intend to work closely with our partners in the country to ensure that our firms gain exposure in the market”.
The French market has a number of advantages for UAE companies seeking a European presence such as being the fifth largest economy in the world. It also has the second largest Muslim population in Europe.
Although, the Muslim population is perhaps the easiest to target it is not the only segment to which the Islamic financial institutions seek to cater their services. Sohail Zubairi the CEO of Dar Al Shariah, stated “that Islamic Financial products are not limited only to Muslims and meet the needs of those looking for ethical investment and finance”.
In this respect France already has a large ethical investment segment with over 70 billion euros of assets under management. There is a misconception that Islamic financial products are complicated. The products are straight forward and it’s the terminology that makes them confusing. If Islamic financial institutions were to use common everyday names for these products they would open the door to a new group of customers.
Another advantage of France as far as Islamic finance is concerned is that Paris is a leading stock exchange market in Europe (in terms of volume of transactions), in particular after the merger between NYSE and Euronext. The country is also a gateway to the Maghreb markets of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.
To date there have been Shariah compliant real estate funds in France with a value of 3 billion euros. However, the potential in the country is estimated to be far greater and some studies show it to be as much as 120 billion euros. The untapped appetite for Islamic financial products was recently illustrated when Société Générale Bank launched an Islamic product in the Reunion Island.
Not only was it fully subscribed in a within a few days it also proved that there are no regulatory obstacles to establishing a fully fledged Islamic financial operation in the country. The island of Reunion is one of five French Departments which implies that it has the identical laws and taxation structure as the mainland. Therefore, the establishment of Islamic products in the Island de facto implies the any approved financial institution should be able to offer the same products in the country.
The eagerness to set up Islamic financial products and services was echoed by Thierry Dissaux from the French Treasury who stated that there are three priorities for the current year in this regard namely to issue a sukuk under French law; provide a licence to an Islamic financial institution and to translate the Islamic accounting standards into French.
At the same time, the country is developing its human capital through the launch of two masters’ programmes in Islamic Finance at the University of Paris Dauphine and Strasbourg University. Although, both courses have a young history they seem to be oversubscribed which shows the huge interest from those looking to work in the Islamic Financial sector.
Sohail Jaffer International Business Development Partner with FWU Dubai Services felt that, “France was well poised for the launch of Islamic or Shariah compliant investment and takaful products“. Jaffer continued to point out that, “France is keen to broaden its scope of financial services in order to strengthen the position of Paris as a major financial centre".