The Abu Dhabi Investment Office (Adio) opened eight global offices in the US, Europe and Asia in its first foray abroad, as part of its drive to attract more investors to the UAE capital.
Adio, in partnership with Abu Dhabi Department of Economic Development (Added), established a network of offices in Tel Aviv, New York, San Francisco, Frankfurt, London, Paris, Beijing and Seoul, it said in a statement on Thursday.
Their objective will be to attract innovative companies – particularly in sectors such as AgTech, FinTech, biotech and ICT – to set up in the emirate, Tariq Bin Hendi, director general of Adio, told The National.
"We focused on cities that we believe fed into the core sectors and priorities that we focus on in terms of growth, [and] where we have a competitive advantage or can create one," Mr Bin Hendi said. "Quite a lot of thought went into the office locations based on the UAE's political ties and the innovation being driven in those cities."
Technology, particularly in healthcare and agriculture, is a priority for the UAE as it seeks to attract investors, draw skilled talent, create jobs and diversify its economy.
Adio took a two-pronged approach when wooing foreign companies. Firstly, it is offering to fund their global expansion when they set up a hub in Abu Dhabi to access local and regional markets, Mr Bin Hendi said. Secondly, it is targeting sectors that are "ripe for absolute or constructive disruption".
"We're focused on innovation, creating jobs for youth and making sure partnerships drive exposure for university students to access this," he said.
The relationship must be beneficial to both the government's ambitions to develop specific sectors and the companies' own ambitions to grow.
"It's pushing the narrative about knowledge transfer and upskilling then plugging that into universities."
A key component of these partnerships is giving the private sector the opportunity to drive change.
Abu Dhabi's proposition to the companies is it will invest in their growth through rebates, grants, market access and a "seat at the table" to shape policy reforms, Mr Bin Hendi said.
"What we’re offering companies is that we will de-risk their expansion into Abu Dhabi and the UAE in exchange for R&D and knowledge transfer," the government official said.
The global offices network will depart from the traditional narrative of countries offering companies the opportunity to relocate in exchange for capital.
"These international offices allow us to position Abu Dhabi and showcase what it has to offer and deliver on that," he said. "If you look at Abu Dhabi, there is appetite to change and transform – the new law changes are driven out of Abu Dhabi."
The UAE has taken measures to improve the ease of doing business, relaxing visa rules and reducing or waiving government fees.
Adio is also rolling out a new Dh2 billion ($545 million) Innovation Programme, which provides financial and non-financial incentives to innovation-driven businesses in high-growth areas, by facilitating a more targeted approach of supporting investors.
The programme will offer assistance to innovative companies in various sectors, particularly those that are relevant to the national security agenda such as food, healthcare, biotech and aerospace, he said.
Asked about his sentiment on investment into the country and the region in 2021, given the emergence of a new Covid-19 strain and the fragile recovery of the global economy, Mr Bin Hendi said "there is a lot of capital looking for opportunities".
"2021 is about resilience and partnership that goes beyond any capital transaction," he said.
Looking ahead at Adio's priorities for 2021, he said the government body's programmes will be focused on policy advocacy by communicating the private sector's needs to policymakers that want to affect change.
Adio’s international offices network will focus on facilitating connections between companies in their respective markets and Abu Dhabi, and introducing international investors to the advantages of expanding to the emirate.
The offices will also allow Adio to tailor its offerings to meet the needs of investors globally.
"The representative offices will serve as a bridge between key international markets and the exciting opportunities in some of our economy’s highest potential areas, opening up new areas for co-operation between the domestic private sector and its international counterparts," Mohammed Ali Al Shorafa, chairman of Added and Adio, said in the statement.
In September 2020, Adio announced plans to establish its first international office in Tel Aviv, Israel. It has formed a partnership with Abu Dhabi-based artificial intelligence and cloud computing company Group 42 (G42) on the Tel Aviv location, according to the statement. The co-located office in G42’s recently opened Israel subsidiary will enable closer collaboration between the two Abu Dhabi entities and accelerate opportunities for technology-focused Israeli companies seeking to expand to the emirate, Adio said.