With its headquarters just a few kilometres away from Dubai International airport, Dubai has the best-connected chamber of commerce in the world.

Thanks to the airport and Emirates Airline’s network of 140 destinations spread across six continents, Hamad Buamim, CEO and president of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, can start his day in Dubai and end it almost anywhere in the world. “Emirates airline is a major enabler for relationships. It makes business connectivity very easy,” he says.

[The Dubai Chamber] can only add real value in unrecognised markets; those with untapped opportunities

Hamad Buamim, Dubai Chamber

So much choice requires a clear focus when it comes to deciding where he visits to promote Dubai and business links with chamber members. “We look at different opportunities and what else can be done. This is why when people ask why don’t you go to London, for example, I say the thing about London is it is already there. Everybody knows what to do and they don’t require us to be there to open more doors,” says Buamim. “We can only add real value in unrecognised markets; those with untapped opportunities where something else can be done. I don’t want to say we know what can be done, but [we know] we can use the competitiveness of Dubai and the competitive advantage of its businesses.”

Central Europe

One area where Buamim thinks there are good opportunities for Dubai to develop more trade is the Czech and Slovak republics in Central Europe. The Dubai Chamber together with the UAE’s Ministry of Economy led a trade delegation to the two countries in late April, and met with local government officials and business leaders at a series of conferences and forums in Prague and Bratislava.

Speaking to MEED in Bratislava on 23 April, Buamim explained how the idea for a visit came to him after visiting the Slovak Republic in late 2014. “I was here in September for another meeting, but as usual whenever we travel we try to explore and look for other opportunities. I met with the prime minister [during that visit] and Peter Mihok [president of the Slovak Chamber of Commerce and Industry] and I told them I could see great opportunities here, and in the coming year we would come and do something. We meant it when we said something could be done.”

[The Czech and Slovak republics will] grow their tourism offerings and this is where Dubai has a good advantage

Hamad Buamim, Dubai Chamber

The Czech and Slovak republics, which were formerly united as Czechoslovakia until they split in 1993, both have industrial and service-based economies that Dubai and the UAE is already trading with. In 2014, the value of trade between the UAE and the Czech Republic was about $1bn, of which $798m was exports from the Czech Republic into the UAE. The main products exported were glass, glazing and automobiles.

“We are fine with that [trade deficits] – we are a major consumer market. They can import from the EU, which is right next to them, so I am not really focusing on exporting from Dubai to them. Instead I am focusing on what they can offer, what we can import either for our own consumption or for re-export. I always say the UAE market is relatively small, but what we can do through the Dubai market is huge and that is where the regional market comes into play,” says Buamim.

Trade links

Buamim and the Dubai Chamber intend to play a key role in establishing new trade links. “In terms of trade, both of them [Czech and Slovak republics] offer opportunities, and it is not just products; it is also services. They have a lot of technology. In our part of world, we have strong relationships with countries such as Germany and the US that have mature markets, but we still don’t have relationships with these [Czech and Slovak] markets and I know we need these products and services; it’s just that the business connections are not established,” says Buamim.

“This is where the chamber acts as a facilitator. When we get the right people together and we present them with what can be done, we can direct their focus closer to do these things. I am very certain that we will be able to grow all the sectors that were identified between our economies.”

The Czech and Slovak republics have economies where services account for about 60 per cent of GDP and industry accounts for 35 to 40 per cent. In contrast, industry accounts for about 60 per cent of UAE GDP, with services accounting for about 40 per cent.

The expertise gained from those sectors can be applied in Dubai. “The Czech and Slovak republics have great human resources. It is untapped. We should attract them to Dubai, and grow Dubai with them because Dubai is a melting pot for people from all over the world and they have the skills we are seeking to take our economy to the next level,” says Buamim.

Selling points

Dubai offers opportunities for Central European businesses in several key sectors. “Dubai has strengths in four major sectors: trade, tourism, supply chain and logistics, and financial services. In the future, both of these countries [Czech and Slovak republics] are going to grow their tourism offerings and this is where Dubai has a good advantage,” says Buamim. “There is an opportunity for us to send tourists here from not just Dubai but the whole Middle East and African markets and vice versa.”

Providing access to the broader Middle East, North Africa and Asia is a key selling point for Dubai businesses. “We [Dubai Chamber] can take business to South Asia, Africa, the GCC, and we like them to partner with our own members [to do that]. I do not want them to just establish in a free zone and do things on their own. It makes more sense for me to partner with people that know our markets better. This is where we say we can make one plus one equal more than two. This is the major advantage Dubai and its businesses have.”

Central Europe is just one region that Buamim has identified as a target market for the chamber and its members. “I understand my members. I know what their needs are; I know what they are looking for. I know the markets they are in, and I understand what Dubai wants to be in 2020 and what the city wants to achieve. Relations with other parts of the world can help us achieve that.”

Other key regions are the former Central Asian CIS countries and Latin America. The chamber is planning on leading delegations to countries in these areas in the future, and as Dubai prepares to host the World Expo in 2020, interest in the emirate from around the world is expected to grow.

Expo impact

“I would say it is quite early to see the direct impact of the Expo, although we are already seeing many indirect results. Dubai is now on the map as a place that can host big events such as the Expo, World Cup or Olympics that attract millions of people,” says Buamim. “I think this [recognition] will make it much easier for us to attract other big events in the future.”

In terms of direct impact, Buamim expects this to start in earnest next year. “Building the infrastructure required [for the Expo] will be done by the private sector, and everyone will benefit whether local or international companies,” he says.

“This is starting to happen already. The ground breaking happened recently, and the construction will start having an impact on Dubai’s economy next year and onward into 2020.”