Most visitors to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) will notice that the country likes to channel its petrodollar reserves to boost its infrastructure, industry and real estate markets. Visiting the nation gives you the distinct feeling that there is always a desire to go metaphorically and physically great with every project.
It has already recorded a series of firsts – from the tallest buildings in the world to long-lasting and commonly used driverless transit systems. And in a post-COVID world, the UAE appears determined to move forward with its own version of the Fourth Industrial Revolution or “4IR” by incubating and nurturing emerging technologies at a pace and scale that few can or are ready to match.
At the 2021 Global Manufacturing and Industrialization Summit (GMIS), to be held in the shadow of the Dubai Expo from November 22-27, much of the UAE debate focused on strategic investment in artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, big data, machine learning. and alternative energy sources to strengthen UAE’s manufacturing credentials and determine how much they should be targeted.
As a result, the UAE’s Ministry of Industry and Advanced Technology has seen its “high tech” mandate steadily increase in importance. The minister himself, Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, who also happens to be the managing director and CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) group and the country’s special envoy for climate change, appears to be leading the charge. .
Al Jaber says building the resilience of the post-COVID supply chain depends on managing the resilience of manufacturing and investing in 4IR. “The two are intertwined, and here in the United Arab Emirates we are doing both, prioritizing sectors that will deliver the greatest added value, while rapidly adopting and applying new technologies in our manufacturing and industrial landscape.
“This is in fact the mandate of my ministry, which aims to help diversify our economy, generate sustainable growth and ensure our industrial competitiveness. Ultimately, our objective is to more than double the contribution of the industrial sector to GDP. of the United Arab Emirates in less than ten years. ”
The UAE government’s target sectors for unlocking greater value include energy, chemicals, plastics, metals, heavy manufacturing, health and electrical equipment, as well as a renewed focus on agro-technology, biotechnology, advanced manufacturing and space. So it’s no surprise that the country’s sovereign investment firm – Mubadala – is an enthusiastic supporter of advanced manufacturing and AI, according to its CEO Khaldoon Al Mubarak.
“Cutting-edge technology will play a critical role in the post-COVID recovery. For example, machine learning has moved to pharmaceuticals and is saving countless lives. As demand rebounds, 4IR will help us deal with supply chain pressures. We are investing heavily in the AI and machine learning space. Ultimately our goal is to rotate the 4IR and expand it. “
Mubarak also took the opportunity to invite partners to join the UAE on its industrial growth strategy. It is an invitation that they seem to have listened to. The United States’ major trading partners to the United Kingdom, from Australia to Italy, have sent GMIS trade delegations to a country ranked by the World Bank as “the easiest place to do business”, according to Al Mubarak.
A key part of the way forward is the UAE’s “Make it in the Emirates” campaign to encourage domestic manufacturing, especially advanced manufacturing, which is enjoying some success. An example is offered by Strata, a manufacturer of aerodynamic composite structures backed by Mubadala.
Founded in 2009, Strata has established partnerships with the world’s largest aircraft manufacturers such as Airbus, Boeing and Leonardo-Finmeccanica Aerostructures Division as well as a premier supplier status with Pilatus, SAAB and SABCA, in little more than ‘a decade.
Strata CEO Ismail Abdulla said his company epitomizes the advancement of advanced manufacturing in the UAE, alongside the economic boom. “Our entire site was built from scratch in Al Ain, a region of the Emirati desert. We started production at the site in 2010 and recently signed an agreement with Solvay for the UAE’s first aerospace joint venture to supply the Boeing 777X.
“The joint venture makes us only the fourth largest supplier of specialty prepreg carbon fibers worldwide. Almost 90% of our workforce is made up of women and provides a powerful indication of our gender diversity offering. We expect our natural progression as a business to continue at a steady pace as the UAE’s focus on advanced manufacturing gains momentum. “
This momentum will need energy. And despite having one of the largest oil reserves in the world, the UAE has decided to expand its renewable energy footprint by multiples and fuel that momentum by gradually going green. It may still be a pipe dream – no pun intended – but Dubai’s Green Energy Strategy 2050 offers a glimpse of this ambition.
The strategy has made it possible to meet 7% of Dubai’s energy needs in 2021 via the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum solar park. By 2030, the percentage is expected to reach 25% and by 2050 to 75%, according to a spokesperson for GMIS. The whole paradigm and what is visible in bricks and mortar these days is underpinned by the UAE’s technological momentum, which the world is invited to join.
Lord Udny-Lister, UK co-chair of the UAE-UK Business Council, believes the world should view the emerging UAE landscape as one of collaboration, not competition. “The British certainly do. For example, there is quite a large amount of money to the tune of £ 1bn ($ 1.34bn) passing through Mubadala, with £ 800m in addition to the £ 200million in UK Treasury money. Much of it is for life sciences. Our views are aligned and I believe knowledge transfer is a shared benefit. “
A post-Brexit UK also sees the UAE as a great gateway to the Indo-Pacific market, Lord Udny-Lister adds. “The operational benefits are obvious. English is widely spoken. Businesses often follow English common law and the fintech scene is as vibrant in the UAE as it is in the UK.”
Regulatory frameworks conducive to the creation of businesses and competitive start-up incubators are a sign of this. James Spence, co-founder of the Libra Project, a blockchain-based renewable energy impact company, said, “We are deploying the latest technology to funnel money directly into renewable energy projects. I couldn’t think of a better place to do business than the United Arab Emirates. My whole renewable energy company is blockchain-based and everything suggests that the UAE is going to be a leader in blockchain technology. “
Additionally, Spence says part of the process of promoting a healthy startup climate is to exercise rigorous control for entry into incubators like the UAE does. “It’s about being both united and competitive with a long-term perspective. Even the short term looks very promising.”
While there is still a long way to go, given what is happening, the odds of the UAE being among the world’s 4IR leaders seem extremely good.