x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Ras Al Khaimah free zone proves a big draw

International firms flocked to set up businesses at Ras al Khaimah last year, citing low costs and ease of doing business.

Oussama el Omari, the chief executive of RAK FTZ, says investment at the free zone is up. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Oussama el Omari, the chief executive of RAK FTZ, says investment at the free zone is up. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National

Ras Al Khaimah Free Trade Zone (RAK FTZ) registered more than 1,700 new companies last year.

The northern emirate further polished its reputation as a haven for businesses seeking low rents and fees as 3,721 companies renewed their licences at the zone.

RAK FTZ, which calls itself "one of the most cost-effective free-trade zones in the UAE", signed up 1,740 companies planning to set up facilities at the zone last year. The zone said it also expanded its revenue by 10 per cent but did not disclose the actual figures.

RAK FTZ, which encompasses several parks spread over 830 hectares, competes with centres such as Jebel Ali Free Zone (Jafza) in Dubai.

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Jafza is the oldest free-trade zone in the UAE, with more than 6,000 businesses, and is served by Jebel Ali Port, the region's largest deepwater port, which handles 11 million containers each year.

Together, Jafza and Jebel Ali Port contribute about 25 per cent to Dubai's GDP.

RAK FTZ said it had more than 5,000 operational companies registered there.

"Our open-door economic development policy has gone a long way towards gaining the confidence of investors from across the globe, which has led to increased capital investment in our free zone," said Oussama el Omari, the chief executive of RAK FTZ.

The zone would continue its expansion this year with an emphasis on companies from growth markets such as Brazil, Russia, India and China, it said.

In December, Ashok Leyland, India's second-largest lorry maker, launched Ras al Khaimah's first vehicle making plant in a Dh50 million (US$13.6m) investment, citing the emirate's flexibility and low costs.

"When choosing the plot at the final detail level, the RAK authority were very accommodating, rules permitting," Bhimasena Rau, the resident director of Ashok Leyland in the UAE, said at the time.

Other arrivals in the emirate include Spatial Composite Solutions, a maker of replica aircraft cabins for crew training, which set up its plant in the emirate to take advantage of low land-lease rates.

Joseph McKeever, the chief executive and owner of the company, said the emirate's more relaxed regulation was another incentive.

RAK FTZ is one of several industrial clustersthat are developing the emirate's industrial base, including marine-related businesses that take advantage of the emirate's position as a first port of call in the Gulf.

It also hosted the 10th World Free Zone Convention last year. This week, the emirate's authorities said new dry dock facilities were attracting shipping companies from around the Gulf region.

"Our newly installed, 1,100 tonne ship-lift and dry dock facility is now fully operational at Al Jazeera Port … and is competing head to head with Jadaf [Shipyard] and Dubai Maritime City," said Capt Colin Crookshank, the general manager and harbour master at Saqr Port Authority.

RAK FTZ also benefited from international companies registering their articles of incorporation there, it said.

It received registrations from 1,500 "international companies".

It defines an international company as "one which does not conduct substantial business in its place of incorporation".

The free zone was established in 2000 with a few offices. It is now home to companies from 106 countries, and employs more than 350 full-time staff.

 

igale@thenational.ae