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RAK eyes free zone expansion

Projects seek $5 bln global investments to 2020.

July 26, 2010 9:15 by

The UAE emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, lacking the oil and gas of its neighbours, is planning projects worth $5 billion to 2020 with the help of foreign investors, officials said on Sunday.

Its Free Trade Zone (RAK FTZ), home to around 4,000 companies, is trying to turn itself into a business hub for small and medium enterprises and lure more multinational investors for its infrastructure and airport expansion plans.

“We forecast 2,250 additional companies in 2010,” said Oussama el-Omari, CEO of RAK FTZ. In 2009, registrations and company revenue in the zone grew 10 and 11 percent respectively despite the global crisis, he added.

Most new companies would come from Germany, France, Turkey, and India. “Some of the largest investments are from Knauf group from Germany, Dole Group from the ‘States, and Hyundai Group,” Omari told Reuters without giving details.

Solar power, the nuclear energy sector and education would form the bulk of projects in coming years, he said.

The authorities in the emirate, just 100 km (62 miles) away from debt-struck Dubai, are launching large scale projects such as a new international airport as a catalyst for growth.

“Looking at the next 5 to 10 years, there should be not less than $5 billion in all the infrastructure projects,” Omari said.

Surrounded by oil and gas but endowed with neither, the fourth largest emirate in the UAE is focused on industries like cement, pharmaceuticals, and glass, and building a regional manufacturing and shipping hub.

Sheikh Faisal bin Saqr al-Qasimi, chairman of RAK FTZ, said a bond issue to finance the projects was unlikely.

“No bonds. At the moment it depends on the liquidity of the market. We are relying on our self-financing and foreign investors,” he told Reuters.

“Our GDP grew 14 percent every year between 2004 and 2008, and 9 percent last year”, he added.

Ras Al Khaimah’s sovereign wealth fund RAKIA said in July it plans an initial public offering for its port of Poti project in Georgia for 2011, without giving a specific date.

Omari also said overseas expansion was a top priority.

“We are opening offices in Washington, China, South Korea, Brazil. It will take us 24 months.”

(Reporting by Martina Fuchs; Editing by Firouz Sedarat and Jason Neely)

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