The UAE continued to remain top destination for the foreign companies to invest as the emirate jumped five places to become 30th country in the world for its ability to attract foreign direct investments.
According to the UN Conference on Trade and Development's (UNCTAD) World Investment Report 2018, FDI to the UAE rose by 8 per cent from $9.6 billion in 2016 to $10.4 billion (Dh38.17 billion) last year in part due to rising cross-border mergers and acquisitions sales, making the country the largest source of FDI in 2017 for the Arab region - at 36 per cent of total FDI inflow.
While the FDI outflows increased by 8 per cent from $12.96 billion in 2016 to $14 billion (Dh51.38 billion) last year. The UAE advanced to 21st position globally, and accounting for 41.9 per cent of total FDI outflows for the Middle East region.
Monica Malik, chief economist, Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, noted that many of the recent moves by the government to improve the business environment and reduce fees are supportive of FDI. "The move to lower aviation fees in Dubai last week highlights that increasing investment in this area. Going forward, new technology related investment will likely be an area of focus. We also expect to see a rise in hydrocarbon and refining related investment in Abu Dhabi. We also expect to see increased investment in key energy importing countries by Abu Dhabi in the refining to gain access to markets," she said.
According to UNCTAD analysts, FDI to 6 Middle Eastern countries - Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar and the UAE - rose but not sufficiently to help the sub-region overcome the decline. FDI outflows from Middle East decreased from $37 billion in 2016 to $33 billion in 2017.
Expanding outflows from the UAE, the sub-region's largest source of FDI in 2017, were not enough to offset declining outward FDI from all other major Middle Eastern economies, it said.
Dubai FDI Monitor report published last week revealed that the emirate attracted $7.4 billion FDI last year, an increase of 7.1 per cent, due to investment projects from the US, Europe and Saudi Arabia.
"In a competitive world where each country is providing distinctive benefits to attract FDI, UAE should create a system where all processes should be done from single place including economy, labour, immigration etc," said Anurag Chaturvedi, managing partner, Chartered House.
"The UAE should also provide assurance on foreign ownership rights and protection with international regulations and create awareness and knowledge on the available business protection norms," he said.
Surandar Jesrani, partner and CEO, Morison MJS, noted that due to the diversified consumer base and spendthrift nature of expats in the UAE, the measures for increasing FDI could be undertaken for technology-based start-ups, consumer goods, logistics, media and entertainment, automobile industry, tourism industry etc.
"Rising immigration of global talents into the region and development of different industries along with various incentives given by the government will also attract real-estate developers from across the world to invest into various avenues in the region. In line with the various news about allowing 100 per cent FDI in select sectors and relaxing visa norms, the government may consider re-looking at various businesses and issue guidance notes on the same. Also, actively engaging with the current businesses to receive feedback (by way of town hall meetings etc) could also be explored," Jesrani said.
A Dubai-based business analyst, requesting anonymity, said that in a world where deglobalisation and protectionism is gaining momentum, the UAE will continue to attract investment due to its openness and a more investment-friendly environment.
"In the coming years, global investors will find the UAE a much safer haven to invest due to the economic opportunities being created for foreign investors, in addition to maintaining an investment-friendly country. The announcement of the Dh165 billion investment in downstream petrochemical sector by Abu Dhabi - will help new industries to develop in the UAE and help attract more foreign investment coming in the country. This is one example," he said.
Besides, the UAE's early adoption of the Fourth Industrial Revolution or Industries 4.0, it will attract more investment in futuristic industries such as artificial intelligence and robotics, cyber-security, internet of things (IOT), bio-technology, big data, etc.
"These factors as well as a higher return on investment and the investors' ability to move capital freely in and out of the country easily, will continue to attract investment to the UAE - the Switzerland of the East."
According to UNCTAD, global flows of foreign direct investment fell by 23 per cent to $1.43 trillion in 2017.
By Waheed Abbas
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