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Interview: Mohammad Ali Rashed Lootah, President And CEO Of Dubai Chambers, With iAfrica

In June 2023, the Dubai International Chamber expanded its presence in Africa with the launch of a new office opening in Johannesburg. The opening is intended to increase the volume of bilateral investments between Dubai and South Africa as well as to further solidify Dubai’s expanding trade ties with Africa. The importance of an international chamber opening up in South Africa will promote economic growth, facilitating international trade and investment, and strengthening diplomatic and business ties between South Africa and Dubai. 

  1. Please explain the decision to open a chamber in South Africa? And the role that chamber will play for neighbouring markets. The South African and UAE trading link and the importance of this expansion into South Africa.

Dubai International Chamber, one of the three chambers operating under the umbrella of Dubai Chambers, inaugurated its office in Johannesburg in June this year. The opening of our fifth office in Africa further consolidates our growing presence on the continent, which also includes offices in Kenya, Ethiopia, Mozambique, and Ghana.

These offices serve as bridges connecting the business communities, identifying attractive investment opportunities in South Africa for Dubai-based companies and assisting South African companies with their entry into the Dubai market, which offers an ideal launchpad for their global ambitions.

The opening comes as part of the ‘Dubai Global’ initiative, which seeks to establish a powerful global network of 50 commercial representative offices for Dubai by 2030. Dubai Global is the key to unlock the emirate’s business benefits for South African companies. The initiative is designed to attract MNCs, SMEs, investors, and international talent to Dubai by highlighting the emirate’s competitive advantages, sharing investment intelligence, and engaging with overseas stakeholders.

The launch of our Johannesburg office strengthens the already robust commercial relationship between Dubai and South Africa and will identify and capitalise on new trade and investment opportunities across a wide range of sectors. 

What sectors is the chamber interested in and how will it support these sectors?

Over the past few decades, trade between South Africa and the UAE has diversified and expanded considerably. During 2022, some of the key areas for exports from the UAE to South Africa included copper, mineral fuels, and precious stones, together with electronics, machinery, and plastics. Last year, precious stones accounted for the largest share of UAE imports from South Africa, reaching a value of more than US$ 3.5 billion. Other key areas included fruits and nuts, vehicles and parts, organic chemicals, beverages, and copper.

Dubai’s strategic location offers easy access to 2.2 billion consumers and serves as a hub to enable South African companies to expand their footprints worldwide. Therefore, we believe there is huge potential to boost bilateral trade and investments across several promising sectors, creating exciting opportunities for businesses in both South Africa and Dubai.

Our new office in Johannesburg will serve as a gateway for sharing knowledge on opportunities that will strengthen the ties between our business communities and ensure we harness the full potential of trade partnerships. As a starting point, we have identified some key industries that are ripe for investment in South Africa. These include agriculture, logistics, mining, and transport.

We are also investigating ways to boost South African exports to Dubai in promising areas such as ferrous metals, fruits, organic chemicals, and precious stones. In addition, our research indicates strong potential to increase the level of exports from Dubai to South Africa for musical instruments, precious stones and metals, photographic goods, and copper.

  1. What are strategic priorities of the Dubai International Chamber to the foreign plan and the expected growth in Dubai’s non-oil trade with South Africa and other markets?

Dubai International Chamber’s strategy for 2022-2024 is focused on strengthening Dubai’s position as a global business centre, attracting multinational companies to the emirate, and supporting companies in the emirate with their plans for international expansion. We have identified 30 priority international markets that offer huge economic potential to expand the emirate’s trade partnerships, highlighting competitiveness in key sectors such as trade, infrastructure, logistics, digital economy, retail, and manufacturing.

South Africa jumped to second place on Dubai’s list of biggest trading partners in Africa last year – up from fifth in 2016 – and ranked 23rd among our global trading partners in 2022. South Africa’s share of Dubai’s total trade with the African continent also rose to 8.3% in 2022, up from 6.3% in 2016. 

Based on Dubai Customs statistics, Dubai’s non-oil trade with South Africa reached US$ 6.1 bn in 2022, representing a growth of 11.5% compared to 2021. The launch of our new office in Johannesburg is set to further accelerate this growth and underlines our commitment to strengthening mutually beneficial trade links and unlocking bilateral investment potential.

At the global level, we remain committed to bringing the wise leadership’s vision to life and playing a key role in boosting Dubai’s non-oil foreign trade to AED2 trillion (US$ 544 billion) by 2026, in line with the emirate’s five-year foreign trade plan.

  1. How/will the chamber have a role in advancing Africa’s goals in implementing the African Continental Free Trade Area?.

As the AfCFTA continues to evolve, Dubai International Chamber can play a crucial role in supporting the growth of trade and investment between the UAE and African countries, contributing to economic development and closer integration across the continent. Almost 60 new South African companies joined Dubai Chamber of Commerce during Q1 2023 alone, representing growth of 47.5% compared to the same period in 2022. In addition, more than 32,000 African companies now benefit from being registered with Dubai Chamber of Commerce and we expect this momentum to continue.

We are continuing to organise trade missions to various African countries, encouraging businesses to explore opportunities and establish connections. In June this year, Dubai International Chamber successfully led a delegation of seven companies based in the emirate to participate in the South African International Trade Exhibition (SAITEX). This came as part of our ‘New Horizons’ initiative, which seeks to support the expansion of Dubai businesses into targeted international markets. 

We will also focus our efforts on programmes, workshops, and seminars to share knowledge and expertise in sectors including trade, logistics, finance, and technology. Building the capacity of African businesses and professionals will further strengthen trade capabilities and contribute to sustainable economic growth. The chamber will also collaborate closely with its African counterparts to simplify customs procedures and reduce barriers to trade by harmonising trade regulations, implementing digital customs systems, and promoting greater transparency to expedite the movement of goods and reduce the associated costs.

In addition to launching our new representative office in South Africa, we recently hosted a special ‘In Focus’ event in Dubai to promote international trade between Dubai and countries in East and West Africa. We are also organising trade missions to Kenya, Rwanda, Côte d’Ivoire, and Nigeria later this year, which have all been identified as markets with strong potential for enhancing bilateral trade.

The upcoming Dubai Business Forum in November is set to play a key role in unlocking opportunities to boost economic cooperation. We look forward to welcoming delegates from across the African continent for this eagerly anticipated event to explore collaboration, make new deals, and pave the way for business and trade to thrive in a connected world.