“Our vision is to build a highly diversified and knowledge- based economy “

H.E. Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansoori, Minister of Economy of the United Arab Emirates, on how SME can benefit from the UAE's ambitious diversification programmes

Your country has been exhibiting an impressive range of companies and services here for many years. What does HANNOVER MESSE mean for the UAE?

We capitalize on Hannover Messe’s reputation as the world’s leading trade fair for industrial technology to pursue major opportunities in the industrial domain with a focus on Innovation and Sustainability, which are fundamental to the UAE’s long-term development plans.

The industrial sector accounts for 16 per cent of the UAE’s GDP and we intend to increase this to 20 per cent by 2020 and ultimately to 25 per cent by 2025. Our participation in high-profile industrial events such as Hannover Messe form part of our comprehensive growth strategy for the sector.

During the last edition, the UAE was represented by 10 government and semi-government organizations involved with the development of the industrial sector along with delegates from more than 35 factories and companies across the UAE. Together we reviewed the latest technologies and practices used in industrial production worldwide.

The UAE aims to take the lead in the digital industry and promote diversified manufacturing, R&D, innovation, and sustainability.

The UAE industrialists forming part of our contingent then learned a lot of new techniques and their potential benefits. Some of the most important ones were related to energy technolo-gy, the streamlining of consumption in industrial production lines, innovative engineering solutions, environmental protection, heavy industry, biotechnol-ogy and medical technology.

One of the objectives of UAE Vision 2021 is to build a sustainable, highly diversified and knowledge-based econ-omy driven by empowered Nationals.

We expect more growth opportunities for our local industries this 2017 that will make the country more resilient to global changes, economic or otherwise.

To realize this, the UAE aims to take the lead in the digital industry and actively promote diversified manufacturing, R&D, innovation, and sustainability. Hannover Messe is an important international event that enables us to pursue our national vision as it provides an ideal platform for the UAE to learn about worldwide developments in industry, modern manufacturing, and technology.

The UAE has expressed optimism that its economy will grow strongly again in 2017. What will be the main drivers of growth – besides the oil price?

We expect more growth opportunities for our local industries this 2017 that will make the country more resilient to global changes, economic or otherwise. Based on the progress we have made so far and backed by our inspiring lead-ership and our global competitiveness, we remain on track to establish a di-verse knowledge- and innovation-driv-en economy.

As the backbone of national economy, small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will act as major growth catalysts over the coming months. To ensure their maximum performance, the government has introduced several laws and other strategic measures for fueling their growth. These involve additional incentives, a uniform definition of SMEs, and the provision of modern facilities and benefits tailored to the needs of SME owners and local entrepreneurs.

Moreover, the approval of Executive Regulations governing the Federal Law on SME projects further incentivizes local businesses and provides them with access to more funding to help them expand.

For its part, the Ministry of Economy has forged strategic partnerships with various countries to further boost the SME sector. We will continue to help SMEs maximize their competitiveness, pursue sustainable growth, and explore new foreign markets with an emphasis on innovation, technology, and knowledge.

The UAE’s vision for 2021 is to achieve more economic diversification. What have been the main achievements in this regard so far, and what are the most important steps that must be taken?

The UAE’s economic diversification policy has been a main factor in the country’s resilience amidst various economic challenges. It was instrumental in increasing the GDP contribution of the non-oil sector to around 77 per cent at prevailing prices or 70 per cent at constant prices in 2015. Among the most productive industries behind this achievement are manufacturing, construction, retail, real estate, logistics, transportation, telecommunications, and tourism – all of which, along with strategic policies and programs, continue to drive the country’s march towards a Post-Oil Era and ensure sustainable development.

Although the government has been tightening its belt on spending policies and financial controls in response to the sharp decline in oil prices, it has counter-balanced by introducing strategic financial policies and drawing on the state’s vast cash reserves. It has injected substantial funding into projects that stimulate growth, advance economic diversification, and develop human capital and knowledge with a sharp focus on innovation, scientific research, and modern technology. Some of these projects involve supportive infrastructure for the upcoming World Expo 2020, the Etihad rail network, enhancements to telecommunications, transportation, tourism and industrial capabilities, ‘smart city’ development, and support for the booming Islamic economy.

In 2015, government spending rose 3.8 per cent to AED 179 billion despite significant oil price fluctuations. It is important that we continue to invest in our future and ensure that the non-oil sector leads the UAE’s sustainable development.

Last year at Hannover Messe you personally invited SMEs to consider investing in the UAE. What is the background of this initiative?

As I have mentioned, economic diversification underpins our ambition of transforming into an innovative knowledge-based economy as outlined by UAE Vision 2021. I have also touched on how SMEs are the main forces behind our economic activities, and so deserve an exceptional regulatory and business environment conducive to their broad and sustainable growth. SMEs are behind many of the economic sectors advancing our diversification efforts. They collectively account for over 60 per cent of the national GDP – a figure we aim to bring up further to 70 per cent in 2021.

The Ministry of Economy has been extensively promoting the SME sector by including its members in our foreign economic missions and among our delegates to various major international events such as Hannover Messe. We believe in the importance of exposing local SMEs to global developments, best practices and new technologies and giving them the chance to explore and tap new international markets, discover additional sources of investments, and build global partnerships.

I would personally advise any entrepreneur or enterprise eyeing the UAE to initially focus on opportunities related to innovation, technology and scientific research and development because they form the core of ongoing efforts to transform the country into a knowledge- and innovation-driven economy guided by our National Innovation Strategy. The National Innovation Strategy will focus on the Renewable Energy, Water, Technology, Transportation, Education, Health, and Space sectors, so these are excellent fields to explore.

H.E. Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansoori is the Minister of Economy of the United Arab Emirates.