Dubai eyes ASEAN markets for new trade opportunities

Hamad Buamim, President & CEO of Dubai Chamber
Hamad Buamim, President & CEO of Dubai Chamber

The first-ever Global Business Forum ASEAN in Dubai on December 8-9 aims to step up the UAE-ASEAN economic cooperation



Global Business Forum (GBF) ASEAN, a two-day event that will take place on December 8-9 under the patronage of Dubai Chamber is aiming to reshape the economy, underlining what ASEAN nations have faced during the past years. Hamad Buamim, President and CEO, Dubai Chamber, exchanged his thoughts about rapid rewiring of supply chains, a fast-growing digital landscape and important pointers on driving sustainable economic trading. Below are excerpts from the interview

Could you tell us more about the Global Business Forums and Dubai Chamber’s role in their creation?

Dubai Chamber established the GBF series eight years ago with a number of key objectives in mind, namely to provide its members with new business opportunities in international markets, to offer international investors a platform to connect with business opportunities in Dubai, and advance the status of the emirate as a global business hub and gateway to new markets.

Launched in 2013 under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, and Ruler of Dubai, GBF is Dubai Chamber’s flagship series comprising GBF Africa, which focuses on the world’s largest continent; GBF LATAM, which deals with the evolving Latin American and Caribbean markets; and GBF ASEAN, focusing on the 10-member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

There have been 10 GBFs held to date, with the events attracting government officials, business leaders, entrepreneurs and industry representatives from Dubai and emerging markets identified as having strong potential. The dedicated programmes enable business stakeholders to participate in high-level dialogue to boost bilateral trade between Dubai and emerging markets around the world.

We understand that GBF ASEAN aims to “push the boundaries of inter-regional trade between Dubai and South East Asia and to explore the changing dynamics, examine opportunities and increase business and investment”. Can you tell us what were the factors that led the Dubai Chamber to create GBF ASEAN?

GBF ASEAN is the latest event to be added to the GBF series with the aim of showcasing the huge potential that the region offers from an economic, business and investment standpoint. Over the last 10 years, Dubai’s non-oil trade with ASEAN reached Dh827.4 billion ($225 billion), but there is still plenty of scope for bilateral trade to increase significantly.

One of Dubai Chamber’s main roles is to provide business intelligence on key markets. Over the years, the chamber has identified significant trading gaps arising in ASEAN countries, pointing to the need for a dedicated forum to fully exploit these opportunities.

For example, our most recent trade analysis found that there are 10 potential products that ASEAN traders could increase exports to Dubai. Last year, these goods were in ASEAN’s top 35 exported products to the world. Dubai imports of them was more than $445 million in 2020, but the share of ASEAN in the imports was less than 10 per cent, showing export opportunities for ASEAN traders. The same analysis revealed 10 products with the potential for an increase in Dubai exports to ASEAN markets. In 2020, these products were in Dubai’s top 20 exported products to the world and ASEAN had at least $1.4 billion worth of imports in them. However, the share of Dubai in ASEAN imports in these products was less than 6.5 per cent, indicating a significant opportunity for Dubai traders to increase their exports.

Added to the prevailing opportunities relating to specific product groups and sectors, which can change over time, there are also more permanent factors that indicate the benefits of a focused business and trade forum for Dubai and the ASEAN region, most notably geography and trade connectivity to other markets. Both regions are strategically located and serve lucrative markets, with Dubai and ASEAN offering easy access to onward destinations through trade, aviation and marine routes. All of these elements combined mean that GBF ASEAN is the perfect platform to explore synergies between Dubai and the 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Can you walk us through the process of coming up with the programme for GBF ASEAN? What were the factors taken into consideration when coming up with the themes, topics and speakers?

The inaugural GBF ASEAN is taking place at a particularly exciting time, both from a global and regional perspective. Over the next five years, ASEAN members and their counterparts could create the world’s largest free trade area. Based on the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership agreement, such a development could add an estimated $186 billion to global GDP by 2030.

The forum will highlight the need for ASEAN member states and the UAE to develop low-carbon economies for a more resilient and sustainable future. Sustainability will also feature as an opportunity in the built environment, with sustainable infrastructure financing a key area and one estimated to be worth $2.8 trillion investment over the next ten years.

Other areas to be explored over the course of the forum will be how the pandemic has pushed ASEAN’s digital economy to exceed $100 billion for the first time, creating a wealth of investment opportunities; how much Dubai and Singapore, as global hubs for their respective regions can learn from each other; and whether there are particular models of South-East Asian and Middle Eastern entrepreneurship.

GBF ASEAN will be a hybrid event showcasing the way forward for forums of the future, with attendees able to participate both in person and online. The event will feature an extensive programme of interactive activities that allow a deep dive into issues around bilateral trade, with audience polling on various topics conducted via dedicated forum app. With government officials, business leaders, industry spokespersons, investors and entrepreneurs from around the world among the participants who have registered for the event, GBF ASEAN is the most significant business forum dedicated to bilateral trade between Dubai and the Association of Southeast Asian nations.

What are your hopes and expectations for GBF ASEAN? What would you consider as indicators of the Forum being a success?

The success of the forum can be defined and evaluated in a number of ways. A rise in the volume and value of imports and exports between the regions would be one such metric. According to Dubai Customs, in 2020, Dubai’s import volume from ASEAN nations reached 2,918 thousand tonnes, growing with a CAGR of 2.2 per cent between 2011 and 2020. Dubai’s non-oil export volume to ASEAN reached 1,112 thousand tonnes, growing with a CAGR of 4 per cent from 2011 to 2020, while the emirate’s re-exports to ASEAN countries was 385 thousand tonnes in 2020, growing at a CAGR of around 3.2 per cent over the past 10 years. Any marked jump in these figures could be an indicator of the success of the first GBF ASEAN, although of course an improvement in bi-lateral trade between our regions in general is expected over the coming quarters as the global economic recovery gathers pace.

In value terms, Dubai imported $13.1 billion worth from the ASEAN region in 2020, growing with a CAGR of 0.1 per cent from 2011 to 2020. Dubai’s export value to the region grew with a CAGR of 1.2 per cent over the past 10 years and reached $2.1 billion in 2020. Dubai’s re-exports to ASEAN were slightly lower than exports and recorded USD 1.9 billion in 2020. Dubai Customs data also shows that between 2011 and 2020, the average share of ASEAN in Dubai’s global imports, exports and re-exports were around 8.5 per cent, 6.6 per cent and 2.1 per cent, respectively. Again, an increase in these figures outside of the expected parameters might be something we could attribute, wholly or partially, to the effect of the forum.

With GBF ASEAN aiming to introduce the business communities in Dubai and ASEAN to the huge opportunities that exist in their counterpart markets, an increase in trade and investment flows between the UAE and ASEAN markets, along with an uptick in delegation visits, a growth in strategic cooperation partnerships, a rise in business tie ups and an increase in agreements to facilitate trade and tourism, would also be an endorsement of the effectiveness of the inaugural GBF ASEAN.

Is there any message you would like to give to delegates and visitors to the GBF ASEAN?

I would like to impart the message that Dubai is a city that is firmly rooted in the future, while at the same time respects the culture and traditions of the past. Vibrant, dynamic and exciting, Dubai offers a wealth of experiences and I would encourage GBF ASEAN visitors and delegates to explore the city, with a trip to Expo 2020 Dubai a valuable part of the itinerary. By combining the dedicated business forum with the expo, as well as the wider experiences of the city, visitors will see how Dubai — a melting pot of all creeds and cultures — is driving sustainable growth and building a brighter future.


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