x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

More firms sign up for the DIFC free zone

Several European financial services firms were among those setting up shop in the DIFC in the first half of the year.

The number of active companies in Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) rose 6 per cent in the first half of the year as more global firms flocked to the free zone.

Several European financial services firms were among those setting up, DIFC said.

"The strong principles on which DIFC is founded - effective regulation and a dynamic business environment - position DIFC well to continue its development as a world financial centre," said Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair, the chairman of the board of directors of DIFC Authority.

A total of 899 active registered companies had a presence in DIFC during the period, up from 848 during the first half of last year.

It also issued 90 commercial licences during the period, a 41 per cent rise from the same time last year, while 39 licences were withdrawn as companies exited DIFC.

Coutts and Company, a British private banking house; Swiss Re Corporate Solutions, a Swiss insurance firm; and NBAD Investment Management, the investment arm of National Bank of Abu Dhabi, all launched operations in the free zone.

Since its launch in 2004, DIFC has positioned itself as a financial services centre between the axes of power of New York and London to the west and Hong Kong and Singapore to the east. The free zone said it was getting interest from European and North American businesses wanting to diversify into the East. But it said it was also there was increasing demand from Asian and Middle East companies wanting to take advantage of opportunities in Africa and the West.

The data provides evidence of a gradual shift in the geographical diversity of firms.

European companies accounted for 41 per cent of total firms during the first quarter of last year, with 10 per cent from Asia. Now 36 per cent are from Europe and 11 per cent from Asia, with 26 per cent from the Middle East, 16 per cent from North America and 11 per cent from the rest of the world.

Demand for office space also rose during the first half of the year. Occupancy of DIFC-owned commercial offices in the Gate District rose to 98 per cent of leasable space, up from 95 per cent in the first half of last year. Across the whole of the DIFC, a total of 179,700 square feet of new space was occupied in the first quarter, representing 60 per cent of that leased during the whole of last year.

Occupancy within retail space remained consistent at 96 per cent. The DIFC Authority runs the centre under the new chief executive, Jeff Singer.

tarnold@thenational.ae