A Catalyst for India-UAE Relations

The Indian Business and Professional Council Dubai, a key catalyst in strengthening the UAE-India ties, is marking its 20th anniversary as a vibrant apex platform for the expatriate community. Suresh Kumar, chairman of IBPC, speaks to Khaleej Times about how the organisation has evolved as a game-changer for business networking, empowering and knowledge sharing


Issac John

  • Follow us on
  • google-news
  • whatsapp
  • telegram


Suresh Kumar, chairman, IBPC Dubai
Suresh Kumar, chairman, IBPC Dubai

Published: Tue 23 May 2023, 10:42 AM

The IBPC has come of age as a perfect rallying point for expatriate Indian businessmen and professionals committed to bolstering UAE-Indian ties. How do you take stock of the past two decades and highlight IBPC’s varied contributions?

Yes, indeed it is a matter of considerable satisfaction that IBPC has come of age and matured into a versatile organisation and as the sole apex business council for the Indian community. It is 20 years old this year, and we are celebrating the 20th-anniversary celebrations on May 24.

Truly, IBPC has also emerged as a credible catalyst for bilateral trade and investment relationships between India and the UAE and a vibrant platform for resident Indian businessmen and professionals. The relationship between our home and host nations( i.e. India and the UAE) is witnessing a golden era, reflecting excellent chemistry at the leadership levels and percolating down to close cultural and commercial ties.

CEPA, in a record time of fewer than 90 days to conclude, represents a game changer for trade in goods and services as well as for favourably boosting both the protection of intellectual property rights (IPR) and investment flows.

There has been a steady and strong inflow of Indian businessmen to the UAE under the Golden Visa, and similar schemes and liberalisation of 100 per cent ownership rights have enticed many Indian multi-national companies (MNCs) as well as start-ups to set up in Dubai and expand their regional operating presence.

Those considering a project in the UAE prefer to take IBPC membership to connect with their domestic counterparts and competitors to gauge and gain market share. For all of them, IBPC has emerged as a valuable networking and knowledge-sharing entity; with an enabling policy advocacy focus.

IBPC is organised in terms of nine focus groups and forums that are clusters of related business sectors and strategic to Dubai namely; accounting, assurance and advisory services(AAA), banking, financial services, insurance(BFSI), construction/ contracting real estate and related services (CRERS), shipping transportation and logistics, hospitality and tourism, education, healthcare, retail etc. These focus groups help hone discussions by experts on strategic policy issues and represent varied business interests.

IBPC has evolved over the years despite challenges and crises that emanated from external or internal issues. Global crisis and market dynamics meant that IBPC needed to stay proactive and respond to our members’ needs as they changed from time to time. IBPC’s financial position remained resilient throughout the two decades.

In 2018, IBPC re-invented itself and underwent a major transformation with the support of the Dubai Chamber ( our regulator). IBPC introduced a two-tier structure for robust governance ( via an eminent board of governors representing the who’s who of the Indian community), along with an efficient executive committee of elected members/ conveners who have had rich experience in various specialist business pursuits.

This model of governance and the duly elected representatives of membership is in line with global best practices and is now endeavouring towards ESG principles. Uniquely, IBPC obtained the coveted Dubai Quality Award in the year 2000 and continued to establish quality benchmarks, attaining operating standards, procedures and policies of a high order.

Going forward, as an influential business council formed under the umbrella of Dubai Chamber, how do you like to position this organisation in Dubai’s next phase of growth?

IBPC is getting ‘future ready’.This is executed carefully to be closely aligned with Dubai’s and the UAE’s strategic plans, operating plans, industrial plans and the like.

Besides, gender diversity and succession planning i.e. next-Gen-IBPCians are on the anvil/ agenda. Going forward, we wish to groom, support and encourage the next generation of leadership. We would also like to focus on gender diversity, making sure that women entrepreneurs, women businessmen, and women professionals get their due share in IBPC’s leadership positions.

IBPC aims to make significant contributions to the ESG and climate change agendas, especially in light of COP 28 taking place in the UAE in November–December 2023.

So we would like to align with actionable global priorities and ensure that we are constantly moving the needle forward in the right direction.

Given the key role IBPC has played in strengthening UAE-India trade and investment ties since its inception in 2023, what will be your next blueprint of action for the coming 10 years in the wake of the CEPA?

CEPA will significantly boost trade and investment flows over the next ten years, not just between India and the UAE but, ideally, also between India and the GCC. Many of our members are active in more than one GCC country. Besides, initiatives like I2U2 and the UAE’s bilateral CEPAs with Indonesia, Israel and several countries globally will add to significant cross-border opportunities. This further opens up the regional and international markets, which is especially beneficial for a global trading ‘entrepôt’ like Dubai, which prospers in international trade, particularly re-exports. The expected levels of trade volume cannot be supported by the UAE’s domestic market alone. As a result, many global and regional markets will change significantly over the next ten years to benefit both India and the GCC states.

The next decade would be driven by technology and consequent disruptions of the old trading and business models across economic sectors. Indian tech talent and global software leadership will blend with the UAE’s ease of doing business. Therefore, the resilience of the Indian business and professional communities will be tested. And I think capacity building in that respect is an equally important task, not just in terms of knowledge sharing but also in terms of preparedness, training, capital expenditure (capex) and investment in people, materials and equipment; to ensure that internal skills are honed, i.e. skill development is a continuum.

Therefore, there is much work to do, and the next generation of leaders are suitable candidates.

How do you hope to align IBPC operations with the objectives of Dubai Plan 2021 and Dubai Economic Agenda D33?

The alignment is already there, moreover, the links will be further strengthened. Incorporating focus groups and forums, IBPC is a well-organised organisation, reflecting the important industries that are the cornerstones of Dubai’s plan 2021 and D33 economic strategy. We will collaborate closely with the Dubai Chamber and Dubai Economy & Tourism (DET). It is crucial to be aware of the highest levels of government thought and to provide them with proper feedback through our systems for policy advocacy.

With the CEPA in place, there is widespread optimism about an era of unprecedented all-around growth in UAE-India relations. How do you foresee those strategic areas of cooperation expanding their scope and evolving 10 years from now?

CEPA and the fact that India is the fastest-growing large economy in the world as of now have and will generate tremendous growth dynamism. Especially, during these days of global recession and global inflation, you do need ‘growth drivers such as India along with fast-growing GCC economies to provide the much-needed growth stimuli. Given the investment surpluses in the UAE and parts of the GCC, a large $3.5 trillion economy in the neighbourhood, such as India, can be a rewarding long-term stable investment destination.

In CEPA, that is an emphasis on ‘last mile production’ or ‘value-addition’ by both Indian and the UAE manufacturing companies. The UAE is already giving them special incentives, ensuring that the investment ecosystem is robust enough to be able to invest. And I think these will be key focus areas. In the future, IBPC will make sure that family officers, high-net-worth NRIs, and others find attractive possibilities to invest in Indian enterprises both in India and in its UAE operations; in other words, Indian MNCs.

Given the growing economic cooperation between the two nations in recent years, there is still a tremendous opportunity to strengthen the current connections. What are the still-untapped sectors that both nations should concentrate?

The following goal is to find, support, and lure to the UAE good Indian SMEs that are manufacturing businesses or those with specialised technology. This tendency is already seen in the startup movement, which received a significant boost thanks to the platforms that were developed at Expo 2020 Dubai. Despite, what would be considered a worldwide ‘funding winter’, good work is still being done by these businesses. I believe the economy will perform admirably in a few years and will favour technology.

As an umbrella organisation for Indian businesses and professionals, how do you plan to provide them with a blueprint to become future-ready?

Indian businessmen and professionals thrive in a highly competitive market such as the UAE but will need to constantly hone their skills and product offerings. With corporate taxation coming into the picture in a year or two, the ecosystem will support mature businesses to grow, providing Indian companies here should embrace the UAE’s national agenda and ensure compliance, best practices and good governance in their businesses. These are part of their ongoing journey, i.e. it is not a one-off destination. His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai said that “In the race for excellence, there are no finishing lines”, i.e. the finishing lines keep moving ahead.

What are the new avenues you envisage as the future growth engines of UAE-India relations?

Future growth engines would be in terms of third-country investments, i.e. India jointly with the UAE, can access the African markets that are rich in minerals and are ready for the next growth phase. India and the UAE complement each other. While the UAE has significant investment surpluses, India has the talent, ability and experience to replicate successfully in the third world, namely Africa, parts of Latin America etc. Hence, India will become the third-largest economy in the world by 2050.

How and in which other areas can the UAE and Indian business communities further strengthen their cooperation to take bilateral relations to a higher trajectory?

The business community in India and the UAE need to work together. It is unquestionably a commitment and a duty that benefits both parties. The major business sectors and investors in the UAE are these two communities. They can work together to try to duplicate their success in the local markets through synergy. Advancing national objectives like cutting carbon emissions, implementing green energy, adopting cutting-edge technology, and ensuring that the UAE’s future generations can benefit from cutting-edge excellence and shared prosperity in fields like artificial intelligence and semiconductors.

India continues to be the chosen partner for the UAE business community in achieving mutually beneficial success. The leadership in the UAE has established the vision and the infrastructure to achieve sustained growth.

A flight, a conversation, and the birth of IBPC

(L-R) G.B. Choithram Jethwani, Mirza Al Sayegh, Ismail U Hukkawala, Obaid Al Tayer, Suresh Kumar and late Kiran H Sangani.
(L-R) G.B. Choithram Jethwani, Mirza Al Sayegh, Ismail U Hukkawala, Obaid Al Tayer, Suresh Kumar and late Kiran H Sangani.

As the chairman of the International Business Professionals Council (IBPC), my journey began with a transformative encounter on a flight to Munich in the summer of 2002. Obaid Al Tayer, the then chairman of the Dubai Chamber, sparked a conversation about the fragmented state of the Indian business community in Dubai. Little did I know that this discussion would set the stage for a significant transformation in the landscape of Indian business organisations in the UAE.

During our flight conversation, Al Tayer expressed his desire to see a unified business council for the Indian community in Dubai. Backed by a clear directive from the Government of Dubai, the Dubai Chamber would regulate and consolidate the various business councils, beginning the collaborative effort to merge the existing organisations into one apex body.

With the support of Al Tayer, Asoke Mukherjee, the then Indian Consul General and the heads of the three organisations — namely Ajay Bhatia, Mohan Valrani, and Dr Ram Buxani, we embarked on a series of meetings and consultations to pave the way for a unified business council. The Dubai Chamber provided a clear timeline, emphasising the need for effective merging or ceasing of operations.

In a short span of 15 days, a draft constitution was prepared, and the seeds of IBPC began to take firm roots. I was honoured to be elected as the first president in the late summer of 2003. IBPC’s mission to facilitate business relationships between India and the UAE, with a special focus on Dubai, gained momentum.

Impact on the Indian business

IBPC quickly established itself as a vibrant platform for the Indian community, engaging with government departments at both the Dubai and UAE Federal levels. Policy advocacy became a key initiative, yielding successful results. Membership, stability, and a strong balance sheet grew rapidly, ensuring IBPC’s viability and vibrancy through its activities and extensive community engagement.

However, as IBPC continued to thrive, new challenges emerged. The need for governance updates and robust oversight became apparent. In response to recurring crisis in late 2017, the Dubai Chamber reached out to me once again in 2018, setting the stage for a major revitalisation.

To ensure good governance and independent oversight, a governance structure was created with a board of governors consisting of influential community leaders. As the chairman, I led the reorganisation of IBPC into various focus groups and forums, aligning with Dubai’s strategic plans and India’s external economic priorities.

From 2018 to mid-2020, IBPC focused on revising operating policies, procedures, and standards, resulting in the prestigious Dubai Quality Appreciation Award from the Government of Dubai. This recognition showcased IBPC’s commitment to excellence and its unique contribution as a Business Council.

Similarly, IBPC’s contribution to the Expo 2020 Dubai and the release of an important trade research report compiled by KPMG for IBPC, i.e. on the same day as the CEPA was signed in New Delhi between India and the UAE. As we now celebrate the 20th anniversary in 2023, IBPC’s consistent and crucial contribution is bringing the business community together.

More news from KT Engage