Swiss Village Association plans Masdar City presence

Clean-tech companies plan presence as more than 20 firms from Switzerland sign up to establish offices and research lab facilities.

Swiss companies are planning a major presence at Masdar City in a bid to promote their environmental and renewable energy capabilities to the MENA region.

More than 20 companies have signed with the Swiss Village Association (SVA), a quasi-governmental organisation, to establish offices, research labs and light manufacturing facilities at the multibillion-dollar eco-city being built in Abu Dhabi, said Wolfgang Bruelhart, the Swiss Ambassador to the UAE.

The SVA is in talks with Masdar on behalf of the companies and hopes to conclude negotiations by next summer. By lobbying collectively, the association is trying to negotiate favourable terms on issues such as rents and space allocation. A further 150 members of the association have also signalled their interest.

"The vision for the Swiss Village is to be part of the Masdar City project and also to showcase our clean-tech and environmental capabilities," said Mr Bruelhart. "Not only in Abu Dhabi or the UAE, across the MENA region there is a need for this."

The plans include a country pavilion within Masdar City in addition to proposals from South Korea and, reportedly, Sweden. A number of private companies have already announced commitments to establish offices at the carbon-neutral free zone and residential city, including General Electric and Siemens.

Masdar City recently underwent a significant review that pushed back the expected completion date for its phase one to 2015 and has said other changes would result in billions of dollars being shaved from the project's cost. The entire project, which would house 50,000 residents and cater for 40,000 commuters, may not be completed until 2025.

Mr Bruelhart said the delays had not affected the Swiss government's commitment to the project and such changes were all a "natural part of the planning process".

The interested Swiss companies are mainly small to medium-sized businesses focusing on environmental services and alternative energy. At the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi next January, the association will unveil blueprints for the Swiss Village in Masdar City, which were designed by a partnership between Swiss and Emirati architects.

Switzerland is marketing new industries to broaden its trade relationship with the UAE, its most important in the Middle East. Traditional mainstays such as jewellery, watches and food and beverages have accounted for more than 60 per cent of its exports to the UAE, which was valued at 2.2 billion Swiss francs (Dh8.4bn) last year, a decline from 2.8bn francs in 2008 due to the global downturn.

The focus on alternative energy is being led by Cleantech Switzerland, a project developed by Switzerland's export promotion agency Osec. In addition, Mr Bruelhart is optimistic of bringing the Swiss "Minergie" green-buildings standard, much like the US "LEED" system, to the region. There are 14,750 homes that have been certified by the Minergie standard in Switzerland, representing 15 million square metres of heated space, according to the Minergie Association.

Meanwhile, the Swiss government is also heavily promoting health care in the UAE, with a view to managing hospitals, said Mr Bruelhart.

Last year, Sonnenhof Swiss Health assumed management of RAK Hospital and the Swiss healthcare companies are actively marketing themselves to other opportunities, he said.