Aramex founder calls for change in UAE ownership laws

Fadi Ghandour hit out at the 51% share that foreign owners must give up to an Emirati partner if they wish to start a business outside of a free zone.

The UAE should change ownership laws if it wants more innovation, Fadi Ghandour, the founder of Aramex, said at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit.

“We need the ability to tread between free zones and onshore,” he said. “I love free zones but I want equal partnerships. There is nothing wrong with them, it brings more investment, more nurturing.”

Mr Ghandour, a Jordanian who has been living and doing business in the UAE for 33 years, hit out at the 51 per cent share that foreign owners must give up to an Emirati partner if they wish to start a business outside of a free zone.

“It’s OK to have foreign ownership here, you will bring a sense of ownership and partnership once you have complete ownership. That’s the beauty of Silicon Valley [it] is an open system, an open landscape,” he said.

Most foreign investors opt to set up companies in the country’s free zones, where they can have 100 per cent ownership.

Larry Langs, an investor and entrepreneur from the US, said he gave up on trying to set up a business in the UAE after his negative experience with his local partner. He said he knows of others who have suffered similarly or who have had their investments stolen.

“People who set up companies need to feel they are the masters of their destiny,” said Badr Jafar, the chief executive at Crescent Enterprises, who has invested in entrepreneurs. “The laws of the UAE have put people off and created very bad experiences to budding entrepreneurs that have come here to set up companies. So we have to make sure the laws protects them.”

The summit came to a close on Thursday after notable talks from Queen Rania of Jordan, Mark Thompson the president and chief executive of The New York Times Company and Robert Kotick, the president and chief executive of Activision Blizzard.

In the closing speech Noura Al Kaabi, the chief executive of twofour54, the organiser of the summit, called for greater transparency in the face of extremist groups hijacking the Arab narrative in the media and online.

“There has never been a more pressing and urgent need for transparency in media and editorial decision-making,” said Ms Al Kaabi. “This includes social media – we need to know not only why you are posting certain information, but also why you decide not to remove material that 99.9 per cent of the human population would call appalling.”

* With additional reporting by Adam Bouyamourn

Published: November 20, 2014 04:00 AM

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