Last month, a Sharjah delegation attended the Renewal of the Arab World forum at the Institut du Monde Arabe in Paris, and highlighted the emirate’s emerging role as an international investment destination. Marwan Bin Jassim Al Sarkal, CEO, Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq), told the audience that the emirate focuses on sustainable development, as a result of which all its areas and industry sectors continue to grow equally well.
At the 12th edition of the World Forum for foreign direct investment (FDI), held in Sharjah from February 8-11, Shaikha Budoor Bint Sultan Al Qasimi, Chairperson of Shurooq, said that the emirate’s economy remains solid because it is diversified, with no industry representing more than 20 per cent of its GDP. She pointed out how support for small- and medium-size businesses has created nearly 45,000 home-grown firms. “In Sharjah... we mean business,” she said.
This multi-tiered strategy of sustainable and diversified development is obvious from the recent results that are pouring in from several sectors. The authorities are actively engaged in inviting the world to invest in Sharjah. Some of these are particularly well poised for spectacular growth.
Long a hub for the region with exports playing a pivotal role, manufacturing currently accounts for 17.1 per cent of Sharjah’s GDP, according to the Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI).
The zoning of 19 industrial areas and industry-focused free zones that leverage easy access to sea, land and air freight facilities have fostered great growth among various small and medium manufacturers. Some have extended their prowess beyond profits, such as frozen food manufacturer Global Food Industries (GFI), which recently got certified to use the national halal mark in a first for the UAE. Ishaque Noor, Managing Director, GFI, says, “We source the finest halal raw materials from across the world, process them at our state-of-the-art facilities [in Sharjah], and ship finished goods across the Middle East and Africa.”
The Sharjah Exports Development Centre, which was launched last month, aims to support and increase the export of products made in Sharjah. At the launch, Hussain Mohammad Al Mahmoudi, Director General of SCCI, explained that while the emirate has been very successful as a globally focused economy, the centre will now help companies increase their competitiveness, find new markets and strengthen trade relations.
“Major international companies such as Gulftainer, Petrofac and Tiffany Foods have grown from Sharjah. Our aim is to help the next generation of champions to develop,” he said.
The transport and logistics sector continues to burgeon, with Shurooq predicting that the current market potential of Dh1.82 billion will rise to Dh3.43 billion in 2020.
Sharjah’s prime location between Africa, Asia and Europe presents unlimited opportunities, and local firms are harvesting them. Last month, industrial giant Gulf Petrochem announced ambitious growth and expansion plans. “We aim to become a $4-billion [Dh14.6 billion] company by 2016, from $2 billion at the moment,” M. Prabhakaran, Global Head of Terminals, told Gulf News in a report published on January 29. “This year, our focus is on East Africa and Nigeria. [Next year], we will be looking into Europe and the US.” Established in 1998 at the Hamriyah Free Zone, the group is a regional leader in the oil and energy business.
The Sharjah Container Terminal (SCT) launched several new services in 2014, as a result of which customers increased their throughput and contributed to a record year. For instance, logistics and terminal operation firm Gulftainer surpassed 400,000 20-foot equivalent units in annual throughput. Iain Rawlinson, Group Commercial Director, says, “SCT has always marketed itself as the flexible alternative and the individual attention we extend to our customers offer us an advantage over competitors.”
Sharjah’s travel and tourism industry has the potential to increase from this year’s estimated Dh1.44 billion to touch Dh1.97 billion in 2020, says Shurooq, which alongside the Sharjah Commerce and Tourism Development Authority (SCTDA) is masterminding several hotels, heritage developments and eco-tourism projects across the emirate.
With a bevy of celebrated buildings, landmarks and monuments that showcase its heritage, Sharjah earned the Capital of Arab Tourism for 2015 title from the Arab Ministerial Council on Tourism. New developments under way include the Kalba eco-tourism project, Al Qasba, Al Majaz Waterfront, Flag Island and Heart of Sharjah, which has attracted more than 45,000 visitors since its first phase was opened to the public.
The emirate’s cruise industry is also booming, with about 70 arrivals of 20 major cruise liners carrying 157,000 passengers expected at Khorfakkan Port over the next two seasons, says SCTDA.
Meanwhile, the authority hosted several international groups at the recent Sharjah Light Festival to invigorate the tourism sector. Khalid Jasim Al Midfa, Director General, SCTDA, says, “We are committed to strengthening our position as a leading family tourism destination with world-class festivals, attractions and leisure opportunities.”
Sharjah’s health-care sector was greatly endorsed by Peter Mandelson, President of the think tank Policy Network, at the World Forum for FDI. He said, “Sharjah is not only a working place but a living space. Its Healthcare City is not just a cluster of companies looking to set up shop in an attractive destination, but a network that adds significantly as a service hub for the region.”
Shurooq places this year’s health-care market potential around Dh3.6 billion, with growth touching Dh5.6 billion over the next five years.
In mid-January, a high-level South African delegation visited Sharjah Healthcare City (SHCC) to explore investment opportunities and develop bilateral health-care projects. Abdullah Ali Al Mahyan, Chairman of SHCC, said the emirate has become a prestigious regional health-care destination because of collaboration with countries that have proven track records.
“SHCC will offer prospective investors an excellent investment opportunity in the field of health care and related services under convenient free zone rules and regulations through a single window service system,” he said.
A German delegation also arrived to explore similar opportunities. Burkhard Kieker, CEO of the agency Berlin Tourismus and Kongress, which is responsible for Berlin’s official tourism organisation VisitBerlin, said, “It is impressive to see how well Sharjah cares for its people. Germany is known for being one of the world’s top health-care destinations. We are working with Shurooq to find ways to collaborate to the mutual benefit of both parties.” SHCC is spread over about 1.2 million square metres, close to Dubai.
Sharjah was the first emirate to launch a waste recycling programme for residents, and statistics reveal that the diversion rate of waste from landfill increased to 67 per cent in 2014, from 53 per cent in 2012. Launched by environmental firm Bee’ah, it encourages recycling through multiple channels. The company has ambitious plans, including the goal of making Sharjah the first Arab city to divert 100 per cent of its waste from landfill, and develop the world’s largest waste-to-energy gasification plant in the emirate.
Marwan Al Shamsi, UAE Director of Collections and Cleansing Business, Bee’ah, told Gulf News in December: “This method will provide a model for sustainable waste management, which will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, providing an important source of renewable energy.”
Sharjah has the region’s highest potential for developing solar power technologies and is in an enviable position to manufacture renewable energy components. Shurooq states that investment opportunities in the renewables sector encompass water desalination, solar thermal energy, solar energy generation, and solar heating and cooling as well as public lighting.
“Although the environment sector is worth Dh780 million, the Sharjah government is keen to expand in this field through attracting FDI into solar energy generation plants and water desalination projects,” says Al Sarkal.
Commenting on the sector, Dr Rashid Al Leem, Chairman of Sharjah Electricity and Water Authority, said in October that the emirate is increasingly moving towards utilising renewable energy sources. “What this means in terms of investment and development is that renewable energy will continue to grow, making for a variety of highly promising investment opportunities.”