Abu Dhabi's Adio in talks with 'dozens' of companies to set up innovation and R&D centres

Investment office is currently holding discussions with more than 20 institutions on setting up a research base, director general Tariq bin Hendi says

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, January 15, 2020.  World Future Energy Summit 2020, Abu Dhabi.
--Dr. Tariq Bin Hendi, DirectorGeneral, Abu Dhabi Investment Office, UAE
Victor Besa / The National
Section:  BZ
Reporter:  Nada El Sawy
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Abu Dhabi Investment Office is in talks with "dozens" of multinational companies to set up innovation and research and development centres in the emirate as foreign direct investment picks up pace on the back of a global economic recovery.

Some of these companies already have a presence in the UAE and want to become part of "the fabric of what we are building here", Adio's director general Tariq bin Hendi told The National in an interview on Wednesday.

“It’s dozens of companies. Right now we are in discussions with more than 20 major institutions in terms of what their plans are for Abu Dhabi, on whether it would be [an] R&D or innovation [centre],” Mr bin Hendi said.

“What they are looking at is moving beyond a sales and distribution model into the region and actually planting roots here from [an] R&D centre perspective and [also from] innovation, plugging into universities and developing intellectual properties,” Mr bin Hendi said.

“This is where we come in and really help these companies to ramp up and develop those plans.”

Abu Dhabi is focused on using advanced technology to develop its non-oil sector in line with a strategy to diversify its economy and reduce reliance on hydrocarbons. Adio is facilitating private sector participation into the broader economy through public-private partnerships and by helping to attract foreign investment.

Abu Dhabi's economy is poised to grow by 6 per cent to 8 per cent over the next two years, driven by government spending, the contribution from its financial services sector and foreign direct investment, Mohammed Al Shorafa, chairman of the emirate's Department of Economic Development said last month.

FDI to the UAE surged 44 per cent to Dh73 billion ($20bn) in 2020 despite pandemic-driven headwinds, underpinned by state oil company Adnoc monetising some of its non-core assets.

Last year, Adnoc helped to attract Dh62bn in FDI to the UAE, mainly through various multibillion-dollar transactions signed in the midstream and infrastructure segments. Over the past four years, it has helped drive Dh237bn in FDI flows to the UAE.

Mr bin Hendi said that FDI is picking up pace and has “diversified momentum because it is across sectors”.

Despite the pandemic last year, the investment office ramped up its efforts to increase support for companies and start-ups in key sectors. Major institutions took note of its efforts and are now “very proactively engaged with us”, Mr bin Hendi said.

Adio remains focused on supporting the development of the FinTech sector, tourism (particularly ecotourism), AgTech, ICT, health services and the biopharma industry, he said.

Adio is also facilitating public private partnerships, which is important to FDI as it allows participation from local and international investors, Mr bin Hendi said.

Abu Dhabi announced plans to issue tenders worth Dh10bn through the PPP model in February last year as part of the emirate's Dh50bn, three-year Ghadan21 accelerator programme. In April, Adio issued two tenders for major infrastructure projects and Mr bin Hendi expects the pace of PPP activity to pick up further.

“What we are doing now is that we are working within the Abu Dhabi ecosystem partners from ADQ, Mubadala, Masdar, Adnoc … and G42 as well. We are looking at how we can expand [the] PPP mandate beyond just government-awarded projects,” he said.

The aim is to work with existing government institutions with large asset bases to determine how they can continue growth using the PPP model.

“This is a collective effort,” he said. “Ghadan21 announcement of Dh10bn was the baseline. That was the benchmark we were using to grow from that point.”

Adio is also engaged in conversations with international institutions that have primary listings on European and US exchanges that are looking for potential secondary listings of some of their subsidiaries in Abu Dhabi.

“What we are doing here is that we are setting the regulations … so that we can be able to cater to that demand,” he said.

“In the next 24 months, you will see a lot more movement as it relates to international companies looking at their ability to use the capital markets in Abu Dhabi to do different things, whether it is debt or [a] secondary listing.”