x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Call for Emirates, Etihad direct flights to Latin America bloc as trade booms

Business people in the UAE with links to a major trade and economic bloc in Latin America have called for Emirates Airline and Etihad Airways to start flights to its member countries.

Business people in the UAE with links to a major trade and economic bloc in Latin America have called for Emirates Airline and Etihad Airways to start flights to its member countries.

Direct flights between UAE and the founding Pacific Alliance countries of Mexico, Chile, Peru and Colombia would boost existing levels of trade of an annual Dh2.4 billion and investment, they said.

“It’s a labour of love to get to that part of the world from here. You feel like saying ‘put those lines in, Emirates and the rest will follow’ and I think it will,” said Frederic Sicre, the managing director of Abraaj Group, a Dubai-based private equity firm.

It has 28 investments across Latin America, including within the Pacific Alliance. Staff regularly fly between Dubai and Abraaj’s offices in Mexico City, Lima, Bogota and Santiago, usually flying via connections in Dallas, Houston or Sao Paulo.

Launched in June last year by the presidents of Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru, and soon including Costa Rica, the Pacific Alliance is a way of integrating the economies of its members to boost trade and investment. Combined, the bloc of the four founders has a population of 209 million, as well as a GDP of US$2 trillion – more than a third of Latin America’s economy.

But no direct flights exist with the UAE, the bloc’s biggest commercial partner in the Arab world. Emirates and Etihad both fly to Brazil, with Emirates also serving Argentina.

“I would appreciate direct flights from Dubai to Mexico City or at least somewhere within the Pacific Alliance,” said Graham Russell, the chief executive of GCC operations at Cemex, a Mexican cement producer with a regional base in Dubai.

Francisco Alonso, the Mexican ambassador to the UAE, said an agreement was in place between the civil aviation authorities of the UAE and Mexico to start flights next year.

“We are working to start the route, flights,” he said.

Business people and officials were gathered yesterday in Dubai at the launch of the Pacific Alliance in the UAE.

Despite the current absence of direct flights, ties between the two sides have leapt in recent years. Pacific Alliance exports to Dubai have jumped by an annual average of 34 per cent since 2008.

Sami Al Qamzi, the director general of Dubai Department of Economic Development, said the rapid pace of trade growth between was “sustainable”.

“We believe we should set a more ambitious bilateral trade objective and take concrete steps that are aligned with our respective comparative advantages,” he said.

Investment by UAE companies including DP World, Ipic and Abraaj Group in the Pacific Alliance has reached $7 billion, making it the most attractive investment destination in Latin America.

The bloc estimates further investment opportunities of $70bn within government-backed projects will be available in the coming years.

“We plan to deploy a lot more capital in the Pacific Alliance over the next decade,” said Mr Sicre.

“The average per capita income is 72 per cent higher than China and that shows the power within the consumer base. Middle class consumption is two times higher than India.”

In a move that helped to expand Abraaj’s footprint within the Pacific Alliance nations, in February last year it bought Aureos Capital, an emerging markets specialist private equity investor with a focus on several regions, including Latin America.

Nobody was available to comment from Emirates Airline or Etihad Airways.

tarnold@thenational.ae