Richard Harris, president of the South African Business Council (SABCO) in the UAE, told How we made it in Africa that South African companies and brands looking to become international players should consider setting up their headquarters in Dubai.
“If you think about it, South African companies can come and set up a branch here and access not only North Africa, but indirectly into Europe and the Asian [markets],” said Harris. “So if you look at it logistically and take Dubai as the centre of the world, and look at where you can go to on a six hour flight, it makes sense to have an operation here as opposed to flying from South Africa up the way the whole time. So there is business sense in opening an operation here.”
According to His Excellency Hamad Buamim, director general of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a number of companies have successfully used Dubai as a hub to access African markets. For example, Nestle, Louis Dreyfus, one of the world’s largest commodity traders, and MiDCOM Group, the largest Nokia distributor in Africa and the Middle East region, all based their Africa office in Dubai.
“At the same time, African entrepreneurs seeking expansion into European and American markets can use Dubai as a base,” Buamim said earlier this year. “Dubai is a gateway to Africa as the Emirate’s close proximity and business-friendly climate is an ideal hub for the continent… We envisage developing our existing trade relationship by encouraging more African companies to use Dubai as a base to trade with Europe, Asia, the Middle East and North America.”
This month, the Department of Tourism and Commerce Marketing of the Government of Dubai hosted an event in Cape Town to promote Dubai as an attractive place for Southern African companies to set up business. Alongside the advantage of Dubai’s geographic position and access to world markets, a number of other benefits were highlighted for African businesses.
According to Wendie White, director of Dubai Tourism in Southern Africa, Dubai’s political and economic stability can provide companies and business owners with a sense of security.
“The [Middle East] region has been through some tough times lately but the UAE is very stable,” she emphasised. “Politically it is very stable, there are no issues there, and also the economy is free. It has been kept open and free to attract investors into the region.”
White added that Dubai’s world class infrastructure means it is easy to conduct business, and the global city, with a large expat population, offers a high quality of life for foreigners who have moved there with their families. “From first class hospitals, schools, shopping centres, hotels, conference centres and manufacturing areas, it really is world class.”
Dubai is also one of the top export centres of the world and has a rapidly developing manufacturing sector. The city is known for its free zones which can offer a number of economic incentives for businesses such as 100% business ownership, tax free environments and no trade barriers.
Agriculture also provides a number of opportunities for African businesses in Dubai. According to 2011 statistics, South Africa was the 13th largest supplier of Dubai’s food imports.