A man reads Aramco's twitter page at a coffee shop in Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, Sunday, Nov. 3, 2019. South Africa’s recent decision to add the UAE to its visa waiver list reflects the strengthening relations between the two countries. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil)
JOHANNESBURG -  South Africa’s recent decision to add the UAE to its visa waiver list reflects the strengthening relations between the two countries, as well as the commitment of both governments to take cultural and economic ties to the next level. 

This important development has actually been years in the making. Just over three years ago, Dubai Chamber led a trade mission to South Africa where Chamber officials made several recommendations for removing trade barriers between the UAE and South Africa, including easing procedures for tourist visas, updating existing legislation and opening new economic sectors for foreign investors. 

The trade mission established an important platform for UAE-South Africa dialogue which laid the groundwork for this strategic move that will very likely result in a boon for bilateral trade and investment. 

Dubai Chamber focuses its efforts on creating channels for constructive dialogue and building bridges between UAE companies and their global counterparts. 

We have seen first-hand how great things can be achieved when various stakeholders come together and work toward common goals and interests. In fact, the close and seamless cooperation between public and private sector players is one of the main factors which has contributed to Dubai’s remarkable economic development over the last few decades, and Dubai Chamber is proud to have played an active role as a facilitator of that progress. Over six years ago, Dubai Chamber embarked on an ambitious international expansion strategy in an effort to build stronger relations with government entities and business communities in promising markets around the world. 

Africa is a key focus of this strategy, with four out of 11 Dubai Chamber international offices located on the continent within Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya and Mozambique. Since then, we have witnessed a steady increase in bilateral trade and investment flows and a growing number of African companies that have set up in the Dubai market. These bonds could not have been maintained without the consistent dialogue which the Chamber works hard to maintain today. 

From organising trade missions to and from Africa to hosting high-level events such as the Global Business Forum Africa, we have continued to expand our efforts to explore new avenues of cooperation and identify business opportunities in African markets that offer the most potential for our members. 

Our most recent initiative in this area came earlier this year with the launch of Africa Gateway - a new smart platform ‘offering our 240,000 members valuable insights on several African markets, including South Africa, enabling them to make informed decisions and learn about new business prospects. 

The Chamber’s efforts received a significant boost from recent initiatives launched by the UAE government to enhance economic competitiveness and attract foreign investors and companies. 

Over the last year, a series of new measures were unveiled such as the decision to open 13 economic sectors to 100% foreign ownership - an advantage that was previously restricted to businesses based in free zones, in addition to the introduction of 10-year visas for investors and 5-year visas for entrepreneurs. When we look at the recent growth in trade and business activity between South Africa and Dubai, we can see that our efforts are now bearing fruit. Dubai-South Africa non-oil trade exceeded $3.3 billion in 2018, a 57 percent surge compared to the $2.1 billion accounted for in 2016. Meanwhile, the number of South African companies registered with Dubai Chamber grew by 19% from 385 in 2017 to 458 today. 

The Chamber Attracting African companies to Dubai is a key objective of Dubai Chamber’s representative offices as they promote Dubai as a global business hub and showcase the emirate’s wide range of competitive advantages, including its business-friendly environment, world-class infrastructure, stateof-the-art logistics facilities and strategic location offering ease of access to emerging markets. 

As the largest event of its kind in the region, the forthcoming Global Business Forum Africa (GBF Africa 2019) in Dubai is a prime example of our international outreach efforts. 

This year’s forum, taking place in November 2019, will be joined by heads of state ministers, policymakers, prominent business leaders, entrepreneurs, industry experts and economists from Africa and the UAE who will share their insights and discuss potential collaboration opportunities. Bearing the theme “Scale-Up Africa”, the forum will build on its previous successes and examine the important role of cross-border cooperation in supporting Africa’s next phase of sustainable growth and development. In addition, the premier event will put the spotlight on startups who are making their mark on African economies and highlight success stories resulting from the GBF Mentorship programme – a new extension of the GBF Africa platform that is designed to foster cooperation between UAE and African entrepreneurs.

Held in partnership with Standard Bank and Invest Africa, GBF Africa 2019 offers an impressive line-up of keynote addresses, seminars, panel discussions and breakout sessions, providing an unrivalled opportunity for South African and UAE stakeholders to capitalise on bilateral business opportunities, move the conversation forward and work hand-in-hand for a brighter future.

Hamad Buamim is President & CEO of Dubai Chamber of Commerce & Industry and Chairman of the Paris-based ICC – World Chambers Federation.

BUSINESS REPORT