How African firms can benefit from Dubai’s free zones

A quick search for the best free trade zones in the world and one of Dubai’s multiple free zones will pop up. The Financial Times’ FDi Intelligence report 2018 named Dubai Multi Commodities Centre as the winner of the ‘Global Free Zone of the Year’ for a fourth time, citing specialised incentives and key trade deals that took place in 2017 that saw companies grow their businesses by setting up in the zone.

Free zones in Dubai were set up to encourage foreign trade and investment in the city. The zones are eco-systems for businesses and offer well equipped districts with specialised amenities, facilities and infrastructure for any business to hit the ground running. A business looking to operate in the free zone gains access to a value chain of services and benefits, the most attractive being 100 percent ownership of your business, zero tax on profits and zero percent on personal income tax.

The Dubai International Finance Centre (DIFC) hosts 27 out of the 30 major banks in the world, these include South Africa’s Standard Bank and Nigeria’s Zenith Bank. DIFC’s Chief Business Development Officer, Salmaan Jaffery says Dubai has a diversification story to tell, and believes that Africa will contribute greatly to that tale. The centre is looking at expanding its offerings in the services space and looks at companies like MTN, Africa’s largest mobile operator, and M-Pesa, the mobile phone money transfer and microfinancing service, to build on that vision.

The DIFC’s mixed use centre gives financial institutions access to policy makers, regulatory boards and exposure to new businesses. Companies found in the DIFC include banks, capital markets, insurance, and wealth and asset management, with a growing presence of startups. The Fintech Hive was launched in 2017 and offers financial institutions subsidised licences, office space and access to collaborations workshops and internationally recognised regulators.

Dubai’s free zones offer these great incentives for diverse sectors such as logistics, media, tech and healthcare. The Dubai Healthcare City is creating a zone that looks to poise Dubai as a destination for medical tourists and provide multi-disciplinary health and wellness solutions. The zone has attracted South Africa’s Mediclinic International who offer private and high quality healthcare in the areas it operates in. The precinct also offers a training centre for medical professionals who want access to world class facilities and access to internationally recognised medical practitioners.


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