Ras Al Khaimah – MENA Herald: His Highness Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, today inaugurated the second edition of the UAE Economic Planning Forum in the emirate of Ras Al Khaimah.

Organized this year by the Ras Al Khaimah Department of Economic Development with the support of the Ministry of Economy, the forum has been themed ‘Creativity and Innovation for Building a Sustainable and Diversified Economy’.

An initiative of the Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development, the two-day forum held at the Al Hamra Convention Centre has drawn the participation of the departments of economic development across the country and a number of prominent government bodies. Several senior federal and local government officials and experts in innovation and economic affairs are headlining the two-day deliberations.

His Excellency Engineer Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansouri, Minister of Economy, His Excellency Engineer Suhail Mohamed Al Mazrouei, Minister of Energy, Sheikh Mohamed bin Kayed Al Qasimi, Chairman of the Department of Economic Development in RAK and His Excellency Ali Majid Al Mansouri, Chairman of the Department of Economic Development in Abu Dhabi, graced the inaugural event. A host of top officials from federal and local government entities, as well as ambassadors and key representatives from diplomatic missions in the UAE also attended the opening session.

In his address at the inaugural session of the forum, His Excellency Engineer Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansouri, Ministry of Economy, said: “Within just 44 years, our economy has taken tremendous leaps compared to other global economies thanks to the federal government’s dynamic approach that focuses on economic diversification with the view to achieving long-term sustainable development. In 2014, the UAE’s GDP amounted to AED1.47 trillion compared to only AED6.5 billion in 1971.

“The UAE economy has maintained positive growth levels despite a decline in oil prices and a slow global economic performance. This has come about as a result of our resilient economic policies that aim to increase diversification and decrease reliance on oil.”

Pointing out that non-oil sector contribution to the UAE’s GDP now stood at 69%, leaving only about a third to the oil sector, Al Mansouri said: “Despite such positive transformations, we are still aiming to lower the oil sector’s contribution to the GDP to around 20% in the next few years. At the same time, the financial reserves in the UAE’s foreign accounts have largely limited and cushioned the economy from market fluctuations. Consequently, our national economy achieved a 4.6% GDP growth in 2014, and we expect to register a 3% – 3.5% GDP growth in 2015 despite prevailing challenges.”

Pointing to the role of investments in knowledge and technology transfer, which the forum was slated to discuss, Al Mansouri said that the UAE has emerged as a very important hub in the Middle East, connecting the East with the West by both sea and air. “The country came first regionally and 22nd globally in the Global Investment Index 2015. Over 500 international companies have chosen the UAE as a regional headquarters for their MENA operations. The total volume of foreign investments in the UAE exceeded US$100 billion in the last decade.

“With 34 multi-specialty free zones in the country, full foreign ownership has now been made possible with zero tax rates and a 100% profit transfer. All of these factors have significantly helped develop our infrastructure, attract greater foreign investment flows, transfer knowledge and technology to the UAE, and build a sustainable knowledge economy,” he added.

In his address, His Excellency Engineer Suhail Mohamed Al Mazrouei, Minister of Energy, noted that the country now has the responsibility of actualizing the visionary leadership’s orientation since the announcement of 2015 as the ‘UAE Year of Innovation’.

Al Mazrouei said: “The Year of Innovation has significantly helped strengthen innovation in the country’s energy sector and its affiliates. In fact, innovation in this field was put into action a long time ago. Until 1995, we simply depleted our natural gas reserves without utilizing them as a valuable investment resource. Our founding father, late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan realized the immense potential of natural gas and decreed its proper utilization. The country has since come a long way, with 95% of gas being efficiently utilized today.”

Emphasizing the fact that squandering resources is detrimental to development, Al Mazrouei said: “We try to be innovative in rationalizing the consumption of electrical energy and water resources. Today, as never before, we see the urgent need to reduce consumption as the average annual increase in the consumption of power and water in the UAE has touched 6%. As you know, water and electricity services are subsidized by the government. These subsidies amount to nearly AED35 billion per annum.

“Our aim is to reduce consumption by 10%, which will save AED3.5 billion per annum in government spending. We are working to support a culture of responsible consumption in various government and private establishments as well as in homes, schools and mosques.”

Drawing attention to the drop in oil prices and its impact on economic growth on the country, the Minister of Energy said that the oil sector contributed at present less than a third of the gross national revenue of the country.

Al Mazrouei noted: “This is what allowed us to absorb the impact of fluctuations in the global oil prices. It is a result of the growth and contribution of non-oil sectors in supporting the sustainable growth trajectory of the UAE. Notwithstanding the obvious but limited impact of the price drop in a few economic sectors, the current scenario has had a direct positive impact on many other influential sectors.

“As His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, pointed out in his message on the national economy, the drop in oil prices has positively impacted several economic sectors in the country in 2014.”

“The transportation and storage sector registered a 10% growth increase as against 7.9% in 2013. The wholesale and retail sector surged 8% as compared to 6.8% in the previous year. The building and construction sector grew by 6.1% in 2014, as against 3.4% the previous year. These are numbers that validate the strength of our national economy and its ability to quickly adjust to global economic changes,” Al Mazrouei concluded.  

For his part, Sheikh Mohamed bin Kayed Al Qasimi, Chairman of the Department of Economic Development in Ras Al Khaimah, said: “The second edition of the UAE Economic Planning Forum in Ras Al Khaimah is a continuation of the first one held in Fujairah in 2014, and reflects mutual cooperation between local economic development departments and the Ministry of Economy in planning and supporting domestic and foreign investments.

“Our mutual interests and collective goals are to define the challenges in the changing international work environment, explore potential opportunities, move ahead with the development process, and boost our competitiveness globally. We need to focus on providing customers with innovative applications that exceed their expectations, and we need to make these apps available on smart devices.”

He added: “The two-day forum is part of ongoing initiatives aimed at supporting the strategic directions of our local and federal governments in order to leverage all capacities and the latest technologies to achieve progress. It also encourages us to develop strategies and plans to meet the requirements of the new economy, such as knowledge management and handling technical and legislative challenges. We believe our efforts will result in improving the business environment, speed up procedures, and increase foreign investments between the UAE and other countries.”

Al Qasimi noted that the Ras Al Khaimah Department of Economic Development is keen to cooperate with public and private institutions to organize similar events, hold discussions, and forge partnerships that benefit all stakeholders.

His Excellency Ali Majid Al Mansouri, Chairman of the Department of Economic Development in Abu Dhabi, said that the Government of Abu Dhabi paid considerable attention to building a knowledge-based economy. “Sectors relying on knowledge and innovation have been prioritized for achieving economic diversification in line with the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030. The Abu Dhabi Plan has underlined the importance of these sectors as principal strategic growth components for the emirate. A raft of policies and initiatives has been laid down to prepare the ground for the transition to a knowledge-based economy,” he said.

Al Mansouri also said that the Government of Abu Dhabi has formed a committee to encourage the integration of science, technology and innovation into all public strategies and initiatives. “Abu Dhabi has also launched the Abu Dhabi Innovation Indicator, in addition to multiple efforts to improve the work environment and encourage innovation and knowledge-related activities. These include facilitating companies and business leaders to access specialized knowledge, incentivizing foreign companies to recruit UAE nationals in their regional headquarters in the emirate, continuous investment in necessary infrastructure and increased integration with international research and development networks. This approach has helped us achieve a comprehensive spurt in various fields.”

He added: “Abu Dhabi has emerged as one of the region’s fastest growing economies. The real gross domestic product in the emirate exceeded AED736 billion in 2014. This marked a growth rate of 4.7% and the contribution of non-oil economic activities reached 49.5% of the GDP. The non-oil sector saw an average growth of 7.4% in 2014.”

The Economic Planning Forum is a preeminent annual event that draws the the participation of top officials from various economic sectors across the country. The previous edition was held last year in Fujairah under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Mohamed Al Sharqi, Supreme Council Member and Ruler of Fujairah. The recommendations emanating from the Fujairah edition helped pave the way for the focal areas of discussion in the 2015 forum.

The forum strives to improve the business environment in the UAE through developing a regulatory and legislative framework and simplifying procedures. This is achieved via open debates and discussions about enhancing the national economy among departments of economic development and planning. The forum supports scientific research and activities in various productive and services sectors. It also aims to build partnerships between educational and business establishments for purposes of training UAE national workforce and preparing it to meet the challenges of the job market in line with the future vision of the UAE economy.