October 3, 2016

Doing Business in the UAE: An Opportunity to Develop Localized Mobile Content for Arabic Speakers?

Produced by GSMA Intelligence, The Mobile Economy Arab States 2015 report says: "A factor preventing smartphone users [in the Middle East] buying apps is the lack of apps in Arabic language. Arabic is the fifth language in the world by number of native speakers and is the first language for more than 240 million people. Nevertheless, less than 1% of websites in the world are in Arabic. Creating local Arabic content requires local talent, so there is clearly an opportunity for local developers, local service providers and local entrepreneurs to develop apps that meet the needs of these customers." My professional interest in producing localized content for Arabic speakers was the primary reason I attended the "Business and Trade Opportunities with Jebel Ali Free Zone (Jafza), Dubai" seminar on Sept. 27, 2016 in Seattle, Wash.

Jafza, a DP World-owned company, is based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates and promoted as one of the world's leading free trade zones. Created in 1985, a"the free zone's purpose is to promote trade and support container throughput at the Jebel Ali Port," according to a promotional materials produced by the based organization. "Jafza accounts for almost 32% of total FDI (Foreign Direct Investment) flow into the country. The free zone contributes 21% of Dubai's GDP on a yearly basis and it sustains the employment of more than 144,000 people in the United Arab Emirates. In 2015, Jafza generated trade worth USD 87.6 billion."

Speakers at the seminar noted that the United States has enjoyed warm relations with the UAE since 1972 and the U.S. was the third country to establish formal diplomatic relations with the UAE. With respect to international trade, the UAE is the United States' single largest export market in the the Middle East. Over 1,000 American firms have an on-the-ground and expanding presence in the UAE. FedEx, Ford, GM, and General Electric are among the Fortune 500 companies operating in Jafza.

The seminar explained some of the value-added services and incentives for companies to locate in Jafza including: 100 percent foreign ownership, no corporate or income taxes, no import import or re-export duties, no restriction on capital repatriation and no currency restrictions. Covering 22 square miles, Jafza can provide businesses with plots of land, warehouses, a business park, and on-site residences.

Photo: Trade Development
Alliance of Greater Seattle
I enjoyed attending the seminar, which was hosted by the Trade Development Alliance of Greater Seattle, and learning about the opportunities that exist for American firms. However, the focus of the presentations was on products rather than services such as cloud computing or information technology such as software-as-a-service, the latter of which is the primary focus of ROI3, Inc. During the Q&A session, there was some discussion about UAE's planned effort to support local entrepreneurship and the creation of small businesses.

The GSMA report referenced in the first paragraph above explains that "the mobile industry in the Arab States has grown rapidly over the last few years, with 54% of the population subscribed to a mobile service as of mid-2015. At this point, the unique subscriber base in the Arab States stood at just over 200 million." Given that just 1% of websites in the world are in Arabic, entrepreneurs and small businesses in the UAE are presented with a great opportunity to develop localized mobile web content. My colleagues and I look forward to having the opportunity to develop mobile software solutions for Arabic speakers, particularly in the education and health sectors.

What has been your experience of doing business in the UAE?

Aaron Rose is an advisor to talented entrepreneurs and co-founder of great companies. He also serves as the editor of Solutions for a Sustainable World.

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