A Quarterly Newsletter from the UAE and Oman member firms of the PKF International Ltd.

VOL 14, Issue 2 April 2012

Interview

H.E. Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al Qasimi is the Federal Minister for Foreign Trade of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Sheikha Lubna, who previously was the Minister of Economy and Planning, is the first woman to hold a ministerial post in the UAE. She graduated from the California State University, USA with a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science and also has an Executive MBA from the American University of Sharjah. She also received an honorary doctorate in science from the California State University.

Q. Can you tell us about your stints with Dubai Ports Authority (now part of DP World) and Tejari?

A. I was the Senior Manager in Dubai Ports Authority’s Information Systems Department where, for seven years, I helped develope the IT capabilities of the Middle East’s largest port. I learned a lot about patiently sharing knowledge with others and the critical importance of teamwork during my stay. I won the “Distinguished Government Employee Award” in 1999 in recognition of my work for the Authority.

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai and Prime Minister and Vice President of the UAE, appreciated my work at the DPA and appointed me as CEO of Tejari, the region’s first electronic business-to-business marketplace, in 2000.

The management skills I honed in these two organizations have been crucial to my success as a government official and as a public figure.

Q. You were the first woman to be appointed to the UAE cabinet. How did you view your appointment and were there any challenges that you had to face?

A. I was deeply honoured to be chosen as the first female appointee to the Cabinet, and more so because it was our beloved founding father, H.H. Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the late President of the UAE, who really encouraged me to take on the role. It was a chance for me to prove that women could make valuable contributions to governance and to the UAE’s growth.

A woman had never reached this position of power in the UAE before, so people were highly skeptical about my ability to perform my duties, act professionally, and interact with a predominantly male Cabinet.  Thankfully, I was able to prove that I had what it took to fulfill all my obligations as a high-ranking female government official.

Q. What are the overall objectives of the Ministry of Foreign Trade?

A.The Ministry of Foreign Trade’s primary objectives are to advance the UAE�s exports of goods and services, attract foreign investments, increase competitiveness, boost the national economy, and manage a well-organized system of trading and commerce. We maintain close ties with local and federal partners to enhance commercial and business opportunities. We also constantly develop and reinforce our international commercial relations and come up with legislation that adheres to and supports global best practices and protects and advances the commercial interests of our country.

Q. What are the major milestones that have been achieved so far?

A. Since its inception in 2008 the Ministry of Foreign Trade has led the signing and negotiation of several regional and global trade agreements and has actively pushed for the ideals and initiatives of the World Trade Organization as a committed member. One of our earliest goals was to reinforce the UAE’s trade partnerships and we are proud of the strides we have made over the past few years.

One of our centerpiece accomplishments is our involvement in the voluntary submission of a lead-up report to the UAE Trade Policy Review that the WTO will conduct in 2012. This initiative is the first of its kind to be undertaken by a WTO member and reflects our dream of transforming the UAE into a model of trade transparency and excellence.

Some of our other achievements are the establishment of seven overseas trade liaison offices, the organization of the UAE’s participation in several international trade exhibitions, and the launching of our official website in October of 2009. We have also published several major books, and studies and reports on foreign trade and investment.

We intend to continue collating trade data and statistics and making them available to exporters and importers over the internet. We will also keep on distributing the results of trade studies and analyses that are helpful for trade decisions and activities.

Our Annual Investment Meeting in Dubai has been a highly successful platform for introducing investors to potential local ventures and explaining the UAE’s investment mechanics. It has also provided substantial global exposure for UAE businesses. We consider such initiatives as vital to drawing in more foreign investments.

Other actions include opening the UAE up to wider markets, further diversifying our commodities, and designing programs aimed at maintaining full confidence in UAE trade. All in all, we are following a trade and investment roadmap for the country which builds us up as a gateway for growth, a safe business-friendly community, a recognized global brand and a knowledge-based economy.

Q. Do you have any message for foreign entrepreneurs considering investment in the UAE??

A. More than 25 per cent of the world’s top 500 companies have set up their regional headquarters in the UAE, which is the second largest foreign capital destination in the Arab world, by the way. These indicate the strong appeal of our country as an investment hub.

We offer many incentives to regional and global investors, including over 30 world-class free zones; a strategic location just hours away from major Asian and European markets; 100 per cent repatriation of capital and profits; zero corporate profit and personal income taxes; business-friendly open-market policies; and a highly-diversified economy, to name a few.

By investing in the UAE, businesses can strategically set themselves up ahead of their competition in anticipation of the world’s economic recovery.

Q. Many women in the region consider you to be their role model. Do you wish to convey any message to them?

A. While I appreciate their admiration, I would like to tell the region’s women that they should really look up to themselves more than anyone else. I have managed to achieve so many things because I have always believed in the abilities of women and the positive impact we can make in the world. Oftentimes Arab women are restricted by their limited perceptions of themselves, by a low self-esteem that prevents them from reaching their full potential.

I would like to tell my sisters to passionately pursue their dreams, stop setting limits to what they can do, and be active participants in the growth of their nations.

I would also like to remind them that they have received many comforts and blessings because of the guidance and inspiration of others. They should in turn find ways to give back to their respective communities and countries.