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What is competitiveness?

The UAE’s leaders, both 41 years ago and today, have always been driven by a passion to constantly improve, innovate

Image Credit: Niño Jose Heredia/©Gulf News
Gulf News

As we approach the 41st anniversary of the founding of the United Arab Emirates I have found myself reflecting, with a sense of both awe and pride, at just how far and how quickly this country has grown and developed.

Under the wise leadership of HH Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father and first President of the UAE, our union of seven Emirates was formed and with it the consolidation of a history that extends well beyond the last 41 years. A nation proud of its pearl and fishing heritage, today we see the strength of our union in a country that is globally recognized as the Middle East’s most cosmopolitan destination for tourism, finance, trade and international business. 

This situation was not arrived at by accident, of course. The commitment and vision of the UAE’s leaders, both 41 years ago and today, has always been driven by a passion to constantly improve, innovate and compete on many levels – the ultimate goal being to benefit the prosperity of its people.

I am pleased to say that these efforts continue unabated, and the UAE government’s “Vision 2021” – a blueprint for making the UAE one of the best countries in the world to work and live in – is a key indicator of the current leadership’s continuing commitment to these principles. 

However, while the UAE has seen incredible and rapid changes to its socio-economic and international status, over the last four decades, so too have we witnessed a shift and change in the way that the world does business, in that time. 

The UAE’s impressive growth, over the last 41 years, has certainly benefitted from its naturally resource-rich oil and gas fields; however, the UAE government has always been aware that a single resource, or industry, cannot provide for, nor sustain, growth and prosperity indefinitely.

Resources alone do not signify the automatic prosperity of a nation. Thankfully, the UAE leadership has long been aware of this issue and, over the last few decades, we have seen corresponding investment in ICT infrastructure, logistics, tourism, and financial services, amongst many other areas. This is a clear demonstration of the UAE’s commitment to provide a holistic, world-class infrastructure and socio-economic environment, conducive to attracting international business and innovative investment. 

Internationally, the last 25 years have seen an increasing shift away from the idea that economies can develop in isolation. The economic reality of the 21st Century is one of countries being more interdependent and connected, due to the increasing globalization of trade and business.

The growth of global trade, within the last decade alone, has clearly demonstrated this trend. For example, in 1993, the US dollar value of all worldwide trade was USD3.6 trillion, yet by last year (2011) that figure was already at USD17.9 trillion – a rise of 500 percent. 

One of the biggest questions facing governments today is how to react and prepare for these shifts, and what kind of analysis can help them address it. One of the best ways to assess this is to look at the level of a country’s “competitiveness”. But what is “competitiveness”? How is it measured, and why should governments take any notice of this form of analysis? 

What do we mean by “competitiveness”? 

The prosperity of a state is often related to that nation’s ability to maintain high productivity levels. Therefore, in the pursuit of higher prosperity, many governments are adopting an economic development framework for identifying “competitiveness”.

Many governments across the world now accept this socio-economic framework as a means to identify and enhance a country’s ability to sustain growth. The ultimate aim being: to provide an overall improvement in the prosperity of the nation and higher living standards for the people in the country. 

A series of reports that assess a nation’s competitiveness can be drawn on from a variety of sources including: the United Nations, the World Economic Forum, The World Bank, the INSEAD and IMD management schools, to name some.

I am therefore pleased to note that the UAE’s competitiveness is already ranked as number one in the Arab world, by the United Nations Development Programme – Human Development Report.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) has also placed the UAE as the only Arab country to be included in the Global Economics driven by Innovation listing. This is the third and most advanced stage of competitiveness in WEF’s Global Competitiveness Report 2012-13. 

Of course, facts and figures alone will not provide a full picture of a nation’s socio-economic strength. The responsibility rests with the policymakers and governments to enable the conditions for innovation and competitiveness to grow, and to encourage greater participation from the private sector. 

Not all countries are at the same level of development; therefore, only by identifying and prioritizing different areas within their socio-economic infrastructure, will countries be able to achieve the desired competitive advantages for future prosperity. There is not one over-arching blueprint or one-size-fits-all policy to follow; however, the binding factors for creating a more competitive national economy can draw on various data and be applied to the specifics of their country’s needs. 

It is impossible, in this short article, to identify how broad the data can be for assessing “competitiveness”; however, the types of questions that policymakers are being asked to consider, when looking at building a more sustainable knowledge economy, include:


How easy is it to access quality information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure in the country? How easy is it for entrepreneurs, as well as MNCs, to set up a business in the territory? How much is the government spending on higher education, R&D facilities, or innovation-based projects and investments? And, to what extent are intellectual property (IP) rights and patents protected, or even being created within that territory?


Emirates Competitive Council & GFCC


It is for this reason that, in 2009, on the direction of HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, the UAE government set up the Emirates Competitiveness Council (ECC), with a mandate to drive competitiveness agenda of the UAE.


The ECCs mission is to act as an advisory body to policymakers, as well as to position itself as a conduit for disseminating knowledge, and creating awareness, between both the public and the private sector. The accepted belief is that, in today’s globalised economy, it is only by creating a greater alignment between all the relevant stakeholders, within a nation’s economy, that the mutual benefits of maintaining and supporting high-levels of productivity can be achieved.


As well as the locally based and organised Emirates Competitiveness Council, the UAE is also a founder member of the Global Federation of Competitiveness Councils (GFCC). In fact, I am certain that it is a direct consequence of both these conditions, in addition to its leading regional status on innovation and competitiveness, the UAE has been chosen to host the third edition of the GFCC’s Global Competitiveness Summit. The theme being: Advancing Prosperity through Innovation.


To be held in both Abu Dhabi and Dubai from 27-29 November, the summit will welcome a series of international delegates, policymakers, senior executives from the private-sector companies, and many leading thought-leaders from academia. The first summit of its kind to be held in the Middle East, this seems to be further proof that the UAE is recognised for its leading competitive and innovative-driven agendas.

Abdulla Lootah is Secretary General of Emirates Competitive Council.