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The United Arab Emirates is a small country both in terms of geography and population. Approximately 80% of residents are expatriates with the majority of those being from India and Pakistan. Such is the expat influence on the UAE that sometimes one could be forgiven for thinking they were in another country, be it a mall in India or a pub in the UK (with air conditioning rather than heating, mind you). It is this cultural diversity that makes the UAE special. And, it is the mix of nationalities that helps business flourish.
Our task at the BCB is to help UK companies expand or export to the UAE and we have often said that once here, a company has the ability to use the UAE as a regional hub to reach Kuwait, Bahrain, and the 33m strong population of Saudi Arabia. Thousands of companies use the UAE as a hub for this purpose and in that number you will find the likes of Microsoft, Toyota, Facebook, and Cisco.
Firms using the UAE as a regional base define the region differently. The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) contains immediate neighbours. The Middle East and North Africa region (MENA) encompases almost everything between Oman and Morroco. MENAT is MENA plus Turkey. And finally, the largest region the UAE serves as a hub for is MENASA, which is the acronym for Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia – a bloc of 22 countries with a population of more than 2.1 billion, or approximately 30% of the world’s population. In 2017 the UN named Dubai as its data Hub for the MENASA region.
Pakistan, one of the 22 countries of MENASA, has deep historical ties to the regional, Saudi Arabia in particular. Trade between the UAE and Pakistan is valued at approximately $10 billion and it is estimated that some 1.4 million Pakistani nationals work in the UAE.
Pakistan is an interesting country. In 1990 it became the first Muslim majority democracy to elect a female Prime Minister. It is a country of more than 200 million people, which makes it the sixth most populous in the world. And, if you’re interested in cricket its new Prime Minister, Imran Khan, was formerly the country’s national captain, winning the World Cup in 1992.
Pakistan’s retail sector is also worth discussing. Growing at an annual rate of 8% the sector, valued at $152 billion, increased nearly 38.5% between 2011 and 2015 and accounts for 18% of the country’s GDP. The drivers for this growth include a young population, 73% are aged 35 or younger, and an expanding middle class which is driving urbanisation.
Pakistan is also trying to drive tourism figures up, particularly in its picturesque northern region. The country faces many challenges in this area, not least that Pakistan is not viewed as a traditional tourism hotspot. There are huge opportunities for both hospitality and branding firms in Pakistan as the standard of accomodation and lack of awareness are serious hurdles for the tourism industry. Pakistan is home to 6 World Heritage sites and the longest glaciers outside of the polar regions. Pakistan’s government predicts that, by 2025, tourism will be worth $10 billion to the local economy.
The Pakistani education system also offers an opportunity to UK firms. Differing to the UAE, which requires a British standard as that is what the market demands, the Pakistani educational system caters to nationals more than it does expats. Therefore, opportunities are wide ranging and include everything from English language institutes to distance learning and higher education. There is also a desire by the government to bring more girls into school with attendance rates in some rural areas as low as 9.5%. It is estimated that as many as 95 million Pakistanis have a command of the English language.
The UAE has built its reputation on trade and doing business. Just as spice traders anchored on the UAE’s shores one hundred years ago, multinational companies ‘anchior’ here today. Access to growing markets such as Pakistan is possible from the UAE due to the cultural influence of the country on the Emirates. Even though the two countries are separated by a few hours on an aeroplane, they view each other as neighbours with as many Emiratis fluent in Urdu as there are Pakistanis fluent in Arabic.
Setting up a business in the UAE should not be seen as a one-country situation. Our MoU with the International Business Council in Pakistan represents a further step that your business does not need to take, as the BCB has taken it already. The majority of data in this article was supplied by the IBC and if you would like to speak to them about opportunities in Pakistan, please get in touch with us.