DHL Express is to use the UAE as its base for a major business drive into sub-Saharan Africa.
The international logistics company, which already does US$2 billion (Dh7.34bn) worth of business in the region, regards the vast small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) sector as its main target.
DHL's managing director for sub-Saharan Africa, Charles Brewer, said the scale of the sector's potential was too big to calculate.
"The opportunity here is beyond enormous," said Mr Brewer. "There are one billion people living in sub-Saharan Africa - 1.25 billion by 2025 - and 60 per cent of them do not live in cities with easy access to existing infrastructure.
"You only have to drive down any road to see the scale of the small-business sector and each one of those traders is an opportunity for us to do business. It is not a question of how big the opportunities are, it's about how we can realise them." DHL has had a presence in Africa since the late 1970s and works in 52 nations across the continent, where there are 54 recognised countries. It is also says there is major potential in its main existing sectors, where it already executes 9 million shipments a year.
The company said its experience in the region put it in pole position to exploit the new opportunities.
"Operating here is a very complex environment," said Mr Brewer. "Small things like exchange rates, or customs duties or VAT charges, which you can assume as more or less fixed elsewhere, can change from week to week, day to day, or even hour to hour here. And that is before you even think about managing the political instability. "We are already heavily involved in the oil and energy sectors, in mining, retail, the automotive parts industry, the growing life-sciences sector and in financial services, from retail banking to insurance.
"Our business can range from moving a letter from a law firm to a client, or as we did recently, to delivering two black rhinos for the Aspinall Trust to Tanzania," Mr Brewer said. "Or it can be a challenging as shipping drill bits, enormous pieces of kit that will only fit aboard a certain type of aircraft."
DHL has 17 specialist transport aircraft operating on the continent, from small Cessnas to Boeing 727 and 737 freighters and uses up to 200 existing commercial flights a day.
Outbound freight from Africa includes diamonds and gold alongside flowers and automotive parts as well as shipments of technology equipment for servicing and repair - one of the reasons for selecting the Emirates as a hub.
"The UAE is positioned between Europe and the US on one hand, and Asia on the other," said Frank-Uwe Ungerer, the DHL country manager for the UAE. "And it has a government that understands the importance of promoting trade. It is easy to do business here."
As well as providing a transhipment hub for finished manufactured goods, the UAE is also growing as a technical centre, especially in aviation, he said.
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