H.E. Hamad Buamim is the President & CEO of the Dubai Chamber. He spoke with The Prospect Group about the factors that make Dubai well suited to become a global hub for the Islamic economy, the most promising sub-segments, and the need for global unification and standardization of the Islamic economy.
Dubai has set out to become a global hub for the Islamic economy. What factors make Dubai well suited for this role?
BUAMIM: Dubai has the geographical location in the middle of the Muslim world. We are very close to all of the major hubs in terms of the Muslim world. More than 1.6 billion consumers are located very nearby Dubai and Dubai of course also has the infrastructure to serve this huge population that’s growing quite fast. It’s expected to be more than 2.2 billion in the coming 10 years and Dubai has also the connectivity with this important market.
The government of Dubai, when we announced this important initiative, we looked around us we see a lot of things happening in the Muslim world. However, you cannot refer to one place where the capital of the Islamic economy is located, and this is what can benefit Dubai. Of course, within this it’s not only the focus in the Islamic finance, which is quite developed, the focus is beyond that. We are looking at the halal industries, and this is with the halal food and beverage and the pharmaceutical industries, which have a lot of opportunities.
We’re looking at halal tourism, which again we estimate based on the studies to be more than $125bn worth of spending in these important opportunities, to be able to serve the Muslims. And we are also looking in terms of the art and culture related to Sharia compliance. So we believe that there are lots of opportunities. It’s not well structured yet, and it has a lot of upper sides not only for Muslims but also for non-Muslims. And this is what we are trying to create here in Dubai, to be able to raise awareness, to be able to promote the city of Dubai, and another segment, and another phase of Dubai for these important businesses, and for these huge opportunities.
What distinct roles do the government and the private sector play in developing the Islamic economy in Dubai?
BUAMIM: The government of Dubai when this event was announced realized that this issue is still developing. There are more requirements for research and for information. We expect also a requirement for laws and regulations, to be able to develop and innovate more products in this important industry. There is more certifications and accreditation required when you get to the industries for example, in terms of the food and beverages.
Of course, there are many attempts that are happening whether you look at Malaysia, whether you look at Bahrain, or even London recently, when it gets to the standardization, whether this is related to the financial sectors or others. However one thing is very important, and we realize it here in Dubai and we’re working very hard for it, to be able to have the unification that whatever will be halal standards in one country can be also recognized in other parts of the world. This is where the opportunities lie. With the private sector, I believe that innovation is very important. The private sector should be able to innovate more products in this important industry. That’s still lacking to be able to catch up with the rest of the economies around us.
How does the Dubai Chamber support the private sector in developing the Islamic economy?
BUAMIM: Dubai Chamber is responsible for the information segment with the Islamic economy, and this is where we are organizing and hosting big international events, to be able to position Dubai as a meeting point for the policy makers and the business leaders, to be able to meet and discuss the challenges and the opportunities. In the year 2013, we hosted the Global Islamic Economic Summit, and it was well successful. We hosted more than 3,500 people for two days, and we came up with very important recommendations. This is where we talked about the importance of regulations, unification, and innovations. We are planning to do this more often going forward, every couple of years in terms of the Global Islamic Economic Summit.
In the year 2014, we are planning to host the World Islamic Economic Forum, and this is just after London hosting it in the year 2013. And again, we want to carry on the same discussion we had over there, get the policy makers, business leaders and even many of the world leaders, to discuss these important subjects on what is going on around it going forwards, and how we can develop also these important segments going forward. So Dubai Chamber is keen to host all the international events to sustain the position of Dubai as the meeting point to discuss the issue of the Islamic economy going forwards.
What sub-segments of the Islamic economy have the biggest prospects for growth in Dubai?
BUAMIM: Still, Islamic finance is the biggest in terms of size and this is where we are talking about Islamic banking, Islamic insurance in terms of takaful, and Islamic sukuk. Dubai will position itself in the coming years to become a major hub for listing all the sukuk in the world. Already we have sizable numbers, comparing even to well-mature cities such as Kuala Lumpur, who started this initiative more than 30 years ago. So Islamic finance is one.
Tourism of course is also, as we call it, halal tourism. And the tourism sector is very important. Dubai is growing very well. Dubai is already well positioned internationally in terms of tourism, and we believe we will be able also to raise more awareness and to benefit more in terms of the halal tourism. So these two I would say have the biggest opportunities. Still in terms of industries, with the supply chain and logistics we have in Dubai, with the free zones, we expect also to be able to attract more investments and to be able to benefit more in terms of the halal industries.
What are the main challenges that still remain with respect to the growth prospects of the Islamic economy? How can these challenges be overcome?
BUAMIM: The Islamic economy is still growing, still developing. It’s quite at that level of growth which requires more development in terms of the laws and regulations, in terms of standardization. Hopefully we’ll be able, by cooperating with other centres of the Islamic economies around the world, whether in the far east through Malaysia and Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, London, all of these centres, to unify many of the standards to be able to increase the awareness more, and also the acceptance of the Islamic products in different parts of the world. So this is one.
Another thing is the information. We need more information to be able to open more opportunities. So the information is important, the research and development, and also resources. This is where the education and development is important. Although there are big growth opportunities in the Islamic economy, however the resources are not enough to be able to cater for example, to all the Islamic finance opportunities. This is where the education will be important. We think there will be more requirements for an Islamic curriculum in the universities and for more development centres.
Dubai positioning itself as global Islamic economy hub, hosting WIEF 2014 is originally published by and copyright of The Prospect Group.