Invest UAE
From left to right: Mohammed Bin Humaidan, Director, Meydan Free Zone; Zubair Makhdoomi Director B2B (Channel Partner & Alliances) Free Zones Authority of Ajman; John Cunliffe, Strategic Business Development Director, RAKEZ; Neelam Sharma, Managing Partner, Neeja Corporate Services; Syam Prabhu, Managing Director & Senior Consultant, Aurion Image Credit: Anas Thacharpadikkal/Gulf News

As the UAE climbs higher in global business rankings, its free zones are becoming increasingly crucial in attracting investors and strengthening the country's economy. With the UAE's consistent ascent in ease of doing business indices, these free zones are proving to be magnets for local and international businesses seeking new opportunities in the Middle East and beyond. This was highlighted by experts from the UAE’s top free zones and business set-up consultants during a panel discussion at the Invest UAE seminar titled Powering transformation: The role of free zones in fostering entrepreneurial ecosystem.

“Free zones provide SMEs, start-ups, and established businesses with convenient, accessible, and seamless solutions for launching and expanding their operations. Whether you're starting anew or seeking to grow, free zones simplify the entire set-up process, making it easy to establish and manage your business efficiently,” said Mohammed Bin Humaidan, Director of Meydan Free Zone, which offers the option to set up a business on a digital platform that doesn't require the physical presence of an investor.

“Our team is available even on weekends to assist and support businesses. Meydan Free Zone goes beyond offering the basic services. We guide businesses through new tax regulations and help them open bank accounts. Our team also assists with legal matters to ensure a smooth business start-up process. We encourage investors to stay connected with us throughout their journey of business development—and we can help them at every step of the way,” Humaidan adds.

Image Credit: Anas Thacharpadikkal/Gulf News

Free zones act as a centralised authority where investors can seamlessly handle everything from company registrations to licensing, immigration, visas, customs procedures, and more. "This streamlined approach allows investors to concentrate fully on their core business activities without being bogged down by administrative tasks," said Syam Prabhu, Managing Director & Senior Consultant, Aurion.

"Free zones offer ideal conditions for B2B transactions with mainland entities, as well as import-export businesses and international sales. The incentives provided, such as exemptions on VAT and corporate taxation, enhance the attractiveness of free zones for businesses," Prabhu added.

Most free zones have seen a significant increase in business registrations across various sectors in recent years. This surge in popularity highlights their vital role in enhancing the UAE's position as a preferred business destination, promoting innovation, and driving economic diversification.

RAKEZ has fostered a thriving ecosystem of 23,000 companies, spanning diverse sectors. “Our community includes businesses ranging from cheese makers to laptop manufacturers and armored vehicle producers. This diversity is highly attractive to investors because it ensures a strong supply chain and access to local customers. Additionally, the quality of life and lifestyle in Ras Al Khaimah further enhance the appeal, contributing to the overall growth and success of businesses operating here,” said John Cunliffe, Strategic Business Development Director, RAKEZ.

As global competition intensifies, the UAE's efforts to improve its free zone offerings position it strongly in the international business arena. With a range of value-added services, these free zones make operations smooth and seamless, creating a business friendly environment.

“Entrepreneurs often face various challenges such as deciding on the right business type, understanding their target market, and navigating corporate governance in the country. Free Zone Authority of Ajman facilitates these discussions professionally, educating investors on local rules and regulations to ease their business set-up process,” said Zubair Makhdoomi, Head of B2B (Channel Partner & Alliances), Free Zones Authority of Ajman.

“We provide ongoing support throughout the journey of an entrepreneurs, ensuring they understand the country's business environment and regulations. We host forums where new and existing clients exchange ideas, fostering a supportive community,” said Makhdoomi

While commenting on the lucrative sectors of investments, Neelam Sharma, Managing Partner, Neeja Corporate Services, said, “Tourism has historically driven economic growth in the UAE by fostering several trade and business sectors. Investors still see strong potential in tourism. Healthcare, food, and hospitality also have plenty of opportunities for growth. UAE’s innovation in artificial intelligence, VR, and renewable energy opens up significant opportunities in these emerging sectors as well as for sustainable projects. These factors together drive economic growth and attract investors seeking new avenues for growth,” she said.