Companies in the Jebel Ali Free Zone generated trade worth more than US$60 billion (Dh220bn) last year, more than a quarter of Dubai's total trade value, new data show.
The Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority (Jafza) did not provide data from the year before. But last year's total fell short of the 2008 trade figure - $88.65bn.
The number of new companies setting up was largely flat. A total of 480 businesses were set up in the Dubai economic free zone last year, compared with 484 the year before.
"We are very proud of our positive contribution to the economic growth of Dubai and the UAE," said Salma Hareb, the chief executive of Economic Zones World, Jafza's parent company. "The performance is in line with the vision set for Jafza as a growth engine of the local economy."
Officials are trying to attract more companies from fast-growing emerging markets in South America and the Far East.
But Jafza has faced tough competition from the Ras Al Khaimah Free Trade Zone (RAK FTZ) and other regional emerging business parks offering low rents. More than 1,700 new companies were registered in RAK FTZ last year.
Moody's Investors Service last week downgraded by one notch Jebel Ali Free Zone's long-term foreign and local currency issuer ratings, citing uncertainties about the company's near to medium-term capital structure.
Businesses setting up in Jafza last year included the Chinese energy company Petrochina International, Japan's Isuzu Motors, Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics of Belgium, and the French energy management company Schneider Electric.
Most of the companies moving in were involved in petrochemicals and oil, followed by automotive and electronics enterprises.
Investors from the UAE accounted for 97 new businesses, India 47, the UK 37, and the US 29.
"Jafza is a vital intermediary hub for the Asia-Europe trade, while it is also well positioned for delivery to the growing North African and Middle Eastern economies," said Ibrahim al Janahi, Jafza's deputy chief executive and chief commercial officer. "Companies in emerging economies in Asia who are looking to expand their horizons are continually attracted by Jafza's value proposition."