A YOUNG COUNTRY, THE UNITED ARAB EMIRATES WAS FORMED NEARLY 50 YEARS AGO and consists of seven emirs of Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Fujairah, Sharjah, Dubai, Ras al-Khaimah and Umm al-Qaiwain. The most open of all Arabic countries, the UAE and particularly Dubai, have marketed themselves as a modern regional hub and has attracted industry, tourism and exported their name through the massive Emirates airline.
The programme to modernise, attract investment and tourists,began in the 1980’s as it became clear to one of the emirs of UAE, Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, that Dubai’s oil revenues were running out. His foresight resulted in the development boom and, to a degree bust, illustrated by the Palm development. Recovery is not fully complete for real estate in Dubai and the market is characterised as ‘tough’ but the city has achieved world status as a holiday resort and today is the site of the ultra-modern, world famous, Burj Kalifa tower. Furthermore, Emirates airlines was established, its all-pervasive name in sport sponsorship is now well-established and it has become one of the largest airlines in the world.
The total population of the UAE is difficult to estimate as, almost uniquely, the expatriate community is larger than the number of UAE nationals. It is thought to total around 9.5 million people, 80 per cent of whom live in the cities. The UAE’s combined land area is 32,278 square miles of which Abu Dhabi constitutes 87 per cent. The city of Abu Dhabi is the UAE’s capital city and hosts the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque which has a capacity to hold 40,000 worshippers.
The economy is the second largest in the Gulf, at approximately $380 billion, but it is dwarfed by Saudi Arabia. Both economies rely on immigrant labour and oil, although the UAE economy is now service and industry dominated and oil revenues are closer to a quarter of its revenues.
Despite the openness of Dubai and the advance of Abu Dhabi as a world city, doing business with absolute monarchies requires an understanding that in business, there can be a zero on the roulette wheel. The United Arab Emirates is a federation of absolute monarchies where each ruler has absolute power unfettered by any written laws, legislature or customs. Upset a monarch or one of his relations, friends or business partners and you could be the loser both in terms of money and even liberty.
The first President of the UAE was Abu Dhabi’s monarch. Dubai’s monarch now fulfils this role, although each of the UAE’s monarchs rules their own emir.
Foreign relations can be complex. Complexity is added by religion. It impacts business, politics and international relations in an all pervasive manner; as was evident in Europe centuries ago. The UAE is a natural ally of Saudi Arabia, war in the Yemen and the UAE’s closeness to the Western economies, makes Iran a natural competitor for influence and a potential foe.
The UAE has a strategic location just to the south of the Gulf of Hormuz, between Saudi Arabia to the West and South and Oman to the East. The UAE, like many nations, was a British creation and, following the departure of the British in 1971, its borders and rule not been without disagreement. The UAE remains close to Britain. Its armed forces are trained in the UK and cadets are seen regularly at Britannia Royal Naval College and Sandhurst.
The UAE is a member of the World Trade Organisation and ultra modern transaction processing is easily accessed and used exclusively. Dubai has built huge and modern port facilities. Emirates has given the UAE superb air communications and freight transport. Exporting to the UAE is a well-trodden path for UK companies. However, a local partner is a necessity. One of the best ways of finding this partner is to consider attending the ADIHEX exhibition; the next one is in September this year.
Abu Dhabi is the home of ADIHEX, the largest hunting and equestrian exhibition in the Gulf, where sporting guns can be sold to UAE nationals. A sense of the opportunity is given by the claimed, near 100,000 likely attendance at the show but a sense of realism is required. Firstly, the population of the UAE is 80 per cent urban. Secondly, only nationals can own a firearm and ownership is very tightly controlled. Lastly, while ADIHEX is a hunting show, equestrian and falconry are a bigger draw than sporting weapons, although clay shooting is popular and shotguns can be rented at clubs. The fact that a big thing was made of the fact that a total of just over a thousand firearms were sold at ADIHEX some five years ago, should give limit to your expectations.
A strategy that includes getting a full understanding of the opportunity presented by the UAE by attending, rather than exhibiting at ADIHEX, would seem sensible as a lack of familiar names in the list of past shows is a worry. There is little doubt that war in the region is bad for the market for field sport products. Previous markets such as Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and the UAE’s historically close friends, Egypt, cannot be accessed via the UAE, even if these markets remained of any size.
The UAE is perhaps best suited to premium shotguns used for clay shooting and for optics, particularly those suitable across the range of horse racing and falconry, as well as hunting. Its previous role as a hub to address other markets has been lost as conflict has meant the UAE has had to take sides and markets have been lost with the notable exception of Saudi Arabia, a market which can still be accessed best from the UAE.
On a positive note, having conducted business in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, if you can find the right products and the right partner, excellent repeat business is available. A good partner in the Gulf will be loyal but should you let them down, a relationship can end abruptly and be very short- lived.