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- In Seven Emirates, Many Opportunities for U.S. Exporters
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In Seven Emirates, Many Opportunities for U.S. Exporters
Laurie Farris (center), the Department of Commerce’s senior commercial officer in the United Arab Emirates, attending the Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition and Conference in November 2010. (U.S. Department of Commerce photo)
The United Arab Emirates, a federation of seven states on the Arabian peninsula that was formed in the 1970s, is the largest single market for U.S. goods in the Middle East and North Africa. With new, large-scale infrastructure projects coming on line, this market will continue to provide opportunities to U.S. exporters.Although not immune to the effects of the economic downturn that began in 2008, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) offers many opportunities to U.S. companies looking for new export markets. Laurie Farris, senior U.S. and Foreign Commercial Service officer in the UAE, recently spoke with Doug Barry of the Trade Information Center about the opportunities from her office in Abu Dhabi.
Barry: Sometimes we in the United States get a little confused about what states make up the UAE. Which one has oil? Which one has debt?
Farris: Many people get confused on this point. The UAE is a collection of seven emirates that were confederated in the early 1970s. Of them, Dubai is the logistics and business services hub, but it is also the one that recently has had trouble with too much debt. In Abu Dhabi, it’s a different situation. It is the emirate with oil, and it covers about 85 percent of the UAE. So Abu Dhabi really is dominant—in terms of physical presence and of resources.
Barry: How big of a market is the UAE for U.S. exporters?
Farris: In 2009, the UAE is the largest U.S. export market in the entire Middle East and North Africa region and the 19th largest globally.
Barry: In Saudi Arabia and Qatar, another Gulf state, there is an unbelievable amount of construction that’s taking place right now: new hospitals, schools, hotels, and universities. Is this happening in the UAE as well?
Farris: Yes, that is the case in the emirate of Abu Dhabi. Clearly, things in the construction sector in Dubai and in the northern emirates have slowed dramatically. And it would be highly misleading to say anything different, for the time being at least. But in Abu Dhabi, things are moving very dynamically in sectors such as infrastructure. The country has been through a hard year like everybody else around the world. But a bad day in Abu Dhabi looks a lot like a good day in many other markets.
Barry: How can exporters find more information about opportunities in Abu Dhabi?
Farris: I would recommend that they look up a couple of documents on the Web. The Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development, for example, has issued an economic plan for 2030 that shows where the government wants to take the emirate’s economy in the coming decades. The department also has an urban plan for 2030, and it’s very detailed. If a company is doing business in the fields of property development or project management or is offering architectural and engineering services, it will want to look at these plans.
Barry: Are there any other areas that are good prospects for U.S. firms in Abu Dhabi?
Farris: Abu Dhabi has gone forward with its civil nuclear energy program. The emirate has also been significantly expanding its oil and gas [infrastructure]. Abu Dhabi is also—curiously, for an oil state—a leader in alternative energy. It’s currently developing a zero-carbon city called Masdar City.
For More Information
U.S companies looking for export counseling can turn to the Trade Information Center by visiting www.export.gov or by calling 1-800-USA-TRAD(E) (1-800-872-8723). More detailed information on the Middle East can be obtained from the Middle East and North Africa Business Information Center at www.export.gov/middleeast.
Barry: A zero-carbon city? Does that mean mostly solar power, or what?
Farris: Yes, solar, but also new construction techniques for building energy-neutral or energy-positive buildings … also, alternative energy generation. There’s a lot of really cutting-edge work that’s being done there.
Barry: Tell us a little bit about the trade delegations you’ve organized to bring UAE businesspeople to trade shows in the United States.
Farris: With Abu Dhabi’s moves to implement sustainable construction requirements, it seemed to be a business opportunity for U.S. companies. I was able to convince several very senior officials from the emirate to accompany us to the Green Build show last year in Phoenix, Arizona. Accompanying them were 120 representatives from the private sector. They were able to see for themselves what U.S. companies have to offer in the sustainable construction sector. The trip was a big success, and we are doing it again this year, when the show goes to Chicago.
Barry: So it would seem that an effective business development strategy would include keeping in touch with your office to find out who from the UAE is coming to the United States and then arranging to meet them.
Farris: Yes, absolutely. Other delegations we’ve organized include one to Waste Expo in Atlanta, Georgia, and another to the Offshore Technology Conference in Houston, Texas.
Barry: What about the UAE’s new rail project?
Farris: The UAE is one of the few countries in the world that had absolutely no rail system whatsoever until the Dubai Metro opened in 2009. So they have launched a very ambitious project to develop a complete freight rail system that includes intermodal port facilities. The new rail line will go through the whole of the UAE and will connect to Saudi Arabia and Oman. They’re very interested in having U.S. companies participate in this project.
Barry: What would be your advice to U.S. businesses when it comes to the cultural realm—that is, avoiding cultural faux pas, understanding the role of women, and other kinds of cultural factors—that need to be taken into consideration when doing business in the UAE?
Farris: About 85 percent of the people who live in the UAE are from another country, so it has one of the most diverse populations anywhere in the world. In that respect, it’s amazing how open and tolerant and relaxed they are with people from elsewhere—and that includes women. I’ve had no problems dealing with any of the Emiratis that I’ve met, [but] this is a conservative society. It’s important to have at least a basic understanding of Islam and, just as important, to do a little bit of homework to understand the difference between each emirate. If you say, “Oh, I’ve set up my office in Dubai,” and you want to develop business with the folks in Abu Dhabi, they will not necessarily be impressed.
Barry: What about the style of business negotiation?
Farris: They’re tough—they negotiate hard. You should be prepared and not take it personally when you think you’re being pushed really hard. It’s just the way they do business here. But a lot of the times you won’t necessarily be dealing with Emiratis, because there are so many expatriates who conduct much of the business here.
Barry: I understand that your office is staffed by a collection of individuals from all over the region and all over the world.
Farris: Yes, we have folks from India, Jordan, Turkey, and Yemen. We have staff from all over. That’s typical of the workforce here.
Barry: And what can they do for U.S. exporters? And what would you suggest to companies interested in the UAE?
Farris: I hope that U.S. companies will give us a call and let us guide them on what the opportunities are and how we can help them enter the market. The UAE is the 19th largest market for U.S. exports and the biggest single market in the region. There are huge opportunities there.
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