Dubai free zones saw 22% trade growth this year, government says

Free zones generated nearly a third of Dubai’s GDP in the first nine months of 2018

Jebel Ali Free Zone. DP World is expanding operations there. Pawan Singh / The National
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Total trade volumes in Dubai’s economic free zones grew by 22 per cent year-on-year in the first nine months of 2018, with the designated business hubs making a significant contribution to the emirate’s economy, a government body said.

Free zone trade hit Dh394 billion, accounting for 41 per cent of Dubai’s total trade during the period, according to the Dubai Free Zones Council, the authority that oversees the emirate’s 24 free-trade areas, which include Dubai International Financial Centre, Dubai Media City, Jebel Ali Port zone and others.

China topped the list of Dubai’s most significant free-trade partners with a total trade volume of Dh59bn over the period. Saudi Arabia was second with Dh34.2bn, closely followed by India with Dh34bn.

Total imports in free zones amounted to Dh215bn, while exports and re-exports totalled Dh179bn. Overall, the free zones generated 31.9 per cent of Dubai’s gross domestic product, the council said.

"Free zones are important economic hubs and centres of foreign direct investment that are poised for growth and expansion in the years ahead," said Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed, chairman of the Dubai Free Zones Council.

“Dubai’s economy relies on the free zones’ efforts to diversify the national economy and expand non-oil business in line with the Dubai Plan 2021, which aims to elevate the emirate’s global status and establish it as a major contributor to the global economy.”


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The rise in free-zone trade is due to promotional efforts to attract more foreign direct investment to Dubai, Sheikh Ahmed added. This summer, many free zones announced reductions in registration fees for new businesses, while the Dubai Government has taken steps to boost inward investment overall, including relaxing regulations and lowering the cost of doing business.

Dubai’s FDI flows rose 26 per cent in the first half of this year to $4.84bn (Dh17.76bn), while the number of FDI projects grew 40 per cent to 248, according to data from the Dubai Investment Development Agency, part of the Department of Economic Development, in October.

More than 41,000 companies, together employing more than 354,000 people, operate in Dubai’s free zones, said the council.