x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

'Time will tell', but lawyers are bullish on Abu Dhabi free zone

The legal profession, already firmly established on Al Maryah Island, is broadly in favour of the new Abu Dhabi financial free zone.

The legal profession, already firmly established on Al Maryah Island, is broadly in favour of Global Marketplace Abu Dhabi (Gmad) - the new financial free zone.

"Time will tell, and this will depend on how the legislation evolves. It is certainly attractive for those who predominantly do business in Abu Dhabi," said Nick Clayson, a partner in the Abu Dhabi office of Norton Rose, when asked whether the project would be a success. "But it is likely to be a genuine regional alternative also. There is no reason why DIFC and Gmad cannot coexist and potentially even cooperate."

Habib Al Mulla, the managing partner of the Dubai law firm that has just merged with Baker & McKenzie, said a range of options would be a benefit.

"Encouraging more choice and deeper, more liquid markets will ensure that national companies have access to advice, execution and trading platforms within the UAE, rather than having to seek them overseas.

"The new financial free zone in Abu Dhabi would complement the DIFC. The two zones would be catering to both the corporate and project financing needs of the region and across the world. This will ultimately increase the competitiveness of the UAE," he said.

Stephen Forster, the head of the Abu Dhabi office for Al Tamimi & Co, said the capital was flexing its financial muscle with the project.

"The Abu Dhabi Government is obviously aiming to make the free zone a major regional financial centre and a serious competitor to the finance centres in Qatar, Bahrain and Saudi as well as the DIFC," he said. "When the Abu Dhabi Government sets its mind on something it generally does it pretty well, so I would expect [it] to be a success."

Niall O'Toole, an Abu Dhabi partner of Clyde & Co, said the development was a challenging endeavour.

"This is a very exciting development for Abu Dhabi. Launching a financial free zone is not something you do lightly," he said.

"It will need to attract major players into the centre. One obvious attraction is the opportunity to manage the assets held by Abu Dhabi's sovereign wealth funds. If they support the free zone this will give it a huge boost."