The largest of the seven emirates stretches on the eastern coast of the UAE, by the waters of the Arabian Gulf, on a surface of 64340 square km, constituting 80% of the country's total surface.
The population of the city of Abu Dhabi, the capital of the UAE, has risen to 1.642 million inhabitants in Q2 2009, *according to the Abu Dhabi Statistics Centre, with a growth rate of 4.3% between 2005 and 2009.
Abu Dhabi represents the third of the UAE's economy, and its GDP is expected to grow by 3.8% in 2011, according to the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Trade and Industry.
Home of the federal government, the UAE's Central Bank, and the corporate headquarters of many multinational corporations, Abu Dhabi is the Arabian Home of Finance with the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange. The city can claim the world's highest absolute and per-capita level of sovereign wealth funds, calculated at one million US dollars for each citizen.
The energy sector is at the heart of the economy of Abu Dhabi, the world's third largest oil exporter, with an oil production averaging 2.3 million barrels a day. The oil sector has contributed to GDP growth by 49.7% in 2010, *according to Abu Dhabi Statistics Centre.
However, the Abu Dhabi 2030 strategic plan aims to develop the emirate's economy away from oil revenues. The plan takes several aspects, starting with diversifying the energy sector away from traditional energy sources, by developing nuclear energy and launching initiatives such as Masdar with the mandate of building the world's biggest solar plant and Masdar City, the world's first eco-friendly carbon-free zero waste city. Abu Dhabi's leading role in renewable energy made it the International Energy Agency's obvious choice as to the location of its regional headquarters.
Another aspect of the Abu Dhabi 2030 vision is the "2030 Urban Structure Framework Plan" which aims to transform the emirate into a leading center for trade and investment. Abu Dhabi's non-oil trade revenues had reached $109.2bn in 2010, increasing by 22.2% *according to Abu Dhabi Statistics Centre.
Abu Dhabi also witnesses a growth in industries such as aluminum and steel, thanks to the strategy laid down by Abu Dhabi Economy Department to increase the sector's share of GDP. These industries thrive in Abu Dhabi Industrial City spanning over 14 square km. Work is still in progress to build Al Ain and Al Ruwais industrial cities, under the supervision of the Higher Institute for Specialized Industrial Zones. These zones are expected to attract more than $35bn worth of foreign investments.
Abu Dhabi's tourism sector is also recording positive growth, with a 38% increase in the number of visitors in September 2011, *according to Abu Dhabi Statistics Centre. Abu Dhabi has also forged its reputation as a world-class destination for sports tourism, with annual events such as the Abu Dhabi F1 cup on the massive development of Yas Island, and the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship in Abu Dhabi Golf Club. Abu Dhabi is also consolidating its status as a cultural capital through ambitious projects such as the Saadiyat Island which will be home to the only Guggenheim and Louvre museums in the Middle East. Etihad airways the world's fastest growing airline has also played a significant role in the development of the tourism sector in the emirate.
Moreover, Abu Dhabi is investing in its infrastructure, as it plans to expand Abu Dhabi International Airport, and build the new Khalifa Port. More industrial cities in various economic sectors are also planned for the future.
Dubai is located south of the Arabian Gulf in the Arab Peninsula, and is the second biggest of the emirates, as it spans over 4114 square kms. It includes the biggest city of the UAE with a million and 929110 inhabitants in March 2011, with an annual growth rate of 5%, *according to Dubai Statistics Centre.
Dubai represents the third of the UAE's economy. And while western economies face major difficulties, the IMF predicts that Dubai's economy will grow by 3.0% in 2011, supported by trade and tourism revenues, as well as the development of the logistics sector.
Long set on a plan to diversify its economic base, Dubai has raised itself to be the pre-eminent global and regional hub for finance, trade, tourism and retail.
The tourism sector is considered to be one of the main pillars of the UAE's economy, with 2 million visitors expected by 2015. The sector has also benefited from government support which has led to the advent of companies such as Emirates airlines, which is today one of the biggest airlines in the world.
Dubai has also become synonymous to ambitious real estate projects such as the Palm Jumeirah and Burj Khalifa, the tallest tower in the world.
The retail sector is a also a main driver behind the growth of the tourism sector in Dubai, which counts around 100 shopping malls, including the biggest shopping center in the world, Dubai mall. These shopping centres witness a range of annual events such as the Dubai Shopping Festival and Dubai Summer Surprises, which attract hundreds of thousands of shoppers from around the world, turning Dubai into the "shopping capital of the Middle East".
Dubai is also coined as the city of Gold, as it endeavors to develop the Gold industry through building refineries, stores and industry-specific free zones.
In recent years, Dubai has also witnessed the emergence of sports tourism, thanks to international events such as the Dubai World Cup and the Dubai Golf Championship.
Furthermore, the emirate is considered as major trade center, thanks to its strategic location in the middle of the globe, in the heart of the Middle East, and at an equal distance to Europe, Asia and America. Dubai's trade revenues constitute 80% of overall non-oil revenues. Its exports have increased by 36% in Q1 2011, *according to Dubai Export Development Corporation.
The advanced transportation network, including Dubai metro, Jebel Ali and Deira ports, Dubai International Airport which will undergo extensive expansion, and the colossal Al Maktoum International Airport, greatly contributes to the trade sector's growth. Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Trade also plays an incremental role in strengthening trade relations with the rest of the world's economies, and highlighting investments opportunities in the emirate.
Dubai's industrial sector is also flourishing, as it represents 13% of GDP in 2010, *according to Dubai Export Development Corporation, with the existence of several industrial zones in Ras Al-Khor, Al Awir, Al Quoz, Al Qusais, Jebel Ali to name a few. The main industries are food processing, chemicals, cement, and metals such as aluminium, plastic and others.
Dubai counts 20 free zones in various sectors, such as Dubai Internet City, Dubai Media City, the Dubai International Financial Centre, Jebel Ali Free Zone, Dubai Silicon Oasis, Dubai Airport Free Zone which offer attractive investment opportunities, in a tax-free environment, with easy-set up procedures and full ownership and profit repatriation rights to foreign companies. The Dubai Financial Market established in 2000 for the trade of foreign and local equity, also represents an attractive investment platform.
The eastern emirate of Sharjah is the third biggest of the seven emirates, with a surface of 2600 square km, with a shoreline on both the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman. The emirate's inhabitants represent 19% of the UAE's overall population, most of them living in the city of Sharjah, the emirate's capital.
Sharjah's economy contributed to the UAE's overall GDP by 7.5%, with the industrial sector being one of its principal pillars, as it constitutes 40% of the UAE's entire industrial activity. Food processing is one of the main subsectors, especially in fertile oases such as Al Dhaid. Sharjah's food exports have amounted to 317 million AED, i.e. 10.7% of the total value of exports in 2009. But oil exports still retain the biggest share of the emirate's trade industry, as they amounted to 8 billion AED for the same year, thanks to the government plan to invest in building 11 industrial areas such as Hamriyah, spanning over 26 square kms, and contributing to GDP growth by 13% in 2006.
Sharjah also constitutes a major transportation hub in the UAE, as it is uniquely holds land on both the Arabian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman in the Arabian Sea, with three coast enclaves lying on the Gulf of Oman: Kalba, Dibba Al-Hisn and Khor Fakkan. Dubai and Abu Dhabi are 20 and 170 kms away respectively through Emirates Road, while the northern emirate of Fujairah can be reached on the eastern western highway. The expansion plans of King Abdul Aziz Road valued at 132 million dollars, and the new bridge to be built over Sharjah's creek, as well as the planned Trans-Arabian light railroad project will further support the land transportation network.
Sharjah's international airport is considered as one of the most important of the region for freight operations, especially with the advent of Airarabia, which operates cargo flights to around 60 destinations. The airport free zone also represents a favored destination for investments in the industrial sector.
On the maritime front, Khor Fakkan's port is also a major shipping hub, as it is one of the 100 most important ports in the world, with 200 ships arriving to its new berth every month, after a $156m dollar expansion also adding a new storage facility. This has allowed the emirate to raise its exports by 48% in 2008.
Sharjah's tourism sector is also growing, as it attracts around a million and 500 thousand visitors *according to the Trade and Tourism Authority, and Sharjah's hotels occupancy rates increasing to 75% in Q4 of 2011. Sharjah is regarded as the heritage capital of the UAE, thanks to a plethora of cultural and historical projects, including nearly twenty museums. Its history goes back to 80000 years BC and in 1998, Sharjah was coined "the cultural capital of the Arab world" by the UNESCO for that year. With its thriving new Expo Centre, Sharjah hosts many large diverse exhibitions and conferences that offer unique investment opportunities for foreign investors. The tourism sector's ability to attract foreign investments is further enhanced by major projects such as the $5bn dollar Murjan Islands.
The Emirate of Ajman is considered to be the smallest of the seven emirates, as it stretches over 259 square km, near the waters of the Arabian Gulf, and counts 230000 inhabitants according to the 2005 census.
But despite its small surface, Ajman has taken great strides in increasing confidence from its humble roots of forty years ago at the time of the formation of the United Arab Emirates. The huge growth in inward investment that has seen the creation of new industries across Ajman, has also bred new agricultural, real estate and financial rewards.
Industrial growth in Ajman has been impressive with new businesses thriving amidst the development of the local economy. Ajman's free zones provide a safe haven in turbulent times, offering very lucrative investment opportunities at a lower cost compared to the more expensive southern emirates. Businesses from such diverse industries as chemicals, fabrics, clothes, metals and leather have all witnessed sustained growth. Ajman's free zones constitute a safe haven for investments, offering lucrative investment opportunities.
Real estate in Ajman also offers attractive opportunities to the savvy investor, for reduced prices compared to the rest of the Gulf markets, with the same international quality standards as the most important investment destinations in the region. The sector is also supported by a solid infrastructure financed by government expenditure and private local funds.
Ajman is also able to draw on its fertile irrigated land with high production yields, to attract foreign investment in the agricultural sector, at a much lower cost. With the rich fishery industry flourishing in the Arabian Gulf on its doorstep, Ajman has other treasures to add to its hoard.
Tourism is also another sector with a great growth story in Ajman. With investments specifically aimed at the hotel trade, and the emirate's huge tourism potential as a new and exotic destination, Ajman has made surprisingly large steps toward a more diversified economy. With nearly twenty hotels, occupancy is counted in the hundreds of thousands of visitors annually. These indicators continue to increase year on year.
Transport and logistics play an important role in the growth of the tourism sector, be it transportation by land through Emirates road, by water through Ajman seaport with eight wharves covering an area of more than 4600 square meters. As for transportation by air, an international airport is being built in Al Manama area near the city of Ajman. The project is valued at $3.3bn, and will include a free zone and around 7 office towers. Ajman is even more closely linked to the thriving heart of the UAE economy. Estimates anticipate an annual turnover of some two million passengers when the airport comes on line. Cargo flights will constitute 65% of the new airport's activity will be based on cargo flights, while the remainder will consist of passenger services.
Umm Al Quwain
The northern emirate of Umm Al Quwain located on the Arabian Gulf, between Ajman and Ras Al Khaimah on the western coast, is one of the smallest in the country, as it spans over 750 square km, with 62000 inhabitants.
But despite its small surface, the emirate boasts several historical landmarks such as the Umm Al Quwain fort and the Dour pre-Islamic site, as well natural characteristics from the islands to the sandy beaches surrounded by mangrove forests. These qualities have made attracted considerable investments in the emirate which now includes two of the UAE's biggest water parks such as Iceland and Dream Park.
Umm Al Quwain also attracts foreign investments in the industrial and trade sectors, through the free zone of the Ahmed Bin Rashid port, which grants foreign companies full ownership rights, in a tax-free environment.
"This investment friendly framework is complete with a good transportation network, as the emirate is located 55 km away from Dubai international airport through Emirates road."
In addition to the focus on tourism and industry, Ajman's authorities are investing billions of dollars in real estate projects for a lower cost compared to other local markets, which will generate interest among global investors. The most impressive of these projects is the multipurpose Al Salam city development, which will be built over 15 years at a cost of $8.3bn. The city will stretch over 220 million square feet, and will be home to half a million residents. Residential units in the project are sold based on a 99-year lease, by virtue of the 2006 law granting residence visa to property owners.
The real estate sector in Umm Al Quwain has also lured the big players such as Emaar which plans on building Umm Al Quwain marina, including 8000 residential units, designer hotels, sports and retail centres on the city's waterfront.
Ras Al Khaimah
The northern emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, occupies 1686 square km of land by the Arabian Gulf, and encompasses 263217 inhabitants.
At the height of a world economic crunch, Ras Al Khaimah witnessed a 9% growth in GDP in 2009, with the Financial Times awarding the title of "Most attractive investment destination in the Middle East for FDI" for that year. With the solid upturn in the UAE's economy over the last two years, this attractiveness has only become more pronounced.
The northern location of RAK and its greater distance from the more expensive conurbations of the southern emirates mean that the cost of living and doing business are substantially lower than elsewhere in the region. But at the same time, it possesses a good transportation network facilitating business, with an international airport operating cargo and commercial flights throughout the region and beyond. Ras Al Khaimah has also witnessed the advent of RAK airways which operates flights to Middle Eastern and Asian destinations. The airport is planned to undergo a full expansion process over 20 years, in order to increase its capacity to 1.5 million passengers, adding new departure and arrival lounges, as well as an adjacent hotel and free zone.
As for transportation by water, Saqr Port, located in the industrial area of Khor Khuwair, is RAK's main port, providing both bulk and container services with eight deep-water berths dedicated to handling bulk cement and aggregate, as well as other specialized marine services. It is the UAE's closest port to Bandar Abbas in Iran, which is one of the UAE's major trading partners, despite changes to trade relations over the past few years.
Ras Al Khaimah has always offered unique local benefits through the Investment Authority and Free Trade Zone. Moreover, foreign businesses enjoy a tax-free environment, total foreign ownership and profit repatriation, in a business-friendly legal framework guarantying highly efficient and quick business set-up procedures, and easy access to investments.
RAK Free Zone is rapidly expanding its portfolio with many thousands of successful businesses in its portfolio, especially in the industry sector. With limited oil reserves, Ras Al Khaimah has instead focused on diversifying its economy. For instance, it is the UAE's largest cement producer. It is also home to a flourishing ceramics industry that supplies the whole region through Ras Al Khaimah Ceramics, as well as to the Arabian Gulf's first pharmaceuticals company, Julphar Gulf Pharmaceutical Industries.
Ras Al Khaimah is also deemed an attractive destination for foreign investments in the tourism sector, as it counts today several international hotels and resorts, and will witness some major real estate projects such as the multi-billion dollar Murjan Island, that will further contribute to the sector's growth.
Fujairah is the only emirate with a coastline on both the Oman Gulf and the Arabian Gulf. It spans over 1150 square km, and counts 130000 inhabitants, according to the 2005 census.
Fujairah has come to form an integral part of the UAE since its formation in 1971, and is well connected by land to the remaining emirates, with dedicated shipping lanes. Abu Dhabi is an easy two and a half hour drive away.
By air, Fujairah International Airport located near the city of Fujairah, provides easy and fast access to different parts of the country and the region. The airport is meant to undergo a complete expansion by 2025, with the addition of a cargo warehouse, two new terminals, one for passenger and another for cargo. This will increase the airport's share of the civil and charter flights in the country to 10%. The planned expansion also aims to diversify the airport's revenues by turning it into a hub for aircraft storage and maintenance, as it also entails building a long-term parking for 50 aircrafts, with a dismantling area that could accommodate 3 or four planes, and a maintenance centre for Airbus and Boeing planes. Commercial flights are also to be launched from the airport, with the establishment of a low-cost airline.
The Fujairah Free zone located next to emirate's main port, offers an integrated business community for companies working in the industrial sector, especially for food and pharmaceutical products, with easy set-up procedures at a lower cost. The free zone guarantees full ownership and profit repatriation rights to foreign companies, in a tax-free environment.
Fujairah also offers attractive investment opportunities in the tourism sector, given its unique location and varied natural scenery, from rocky mountains to sandy beaches.
In order to attract investments in the rapidly growing media sector, the emirate has launched the Creative City initiative, which represents an ideal fully-integrated environment specifically designed to meet the needs of all companies working in the sector. The city will comprise several areas dedicated to all the different aspects of the sector such as audiovisual, performing arts, printing and publishing, design and graphic arts, information technology and cinematography. Phase 1 will span over 200000 square meters near Emirates Road. It will include a virtual free zone which will allow companies to submit online set-up applications and receive trade licenses within a few days and at a lower cost than in other national free zones.
The emirate also witnesses a number of major projects that will attract investments in the energy sector. The Fujairah Free Zone Authority is working on building two oil refineries each with a 300000 ton capacity. A joint venture has also been launched between the governments of Fujairah and Abu Dhabi to build the Habchan- Fujairah pipeline (ADCOP) that will transport 1.5 million barrels of oil per day along 360 km to a new terminal on the coast of Fujairah where it will be available for export. This initiative drafted by the International Petroleum Investment company will reduce shipping time and cost through the Strait of Hormuz.