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UAE takes lead on fintech

United Arab Emira...InvestmentFintechStart-ups

The oil-rich Middle Eastern state has become a cryptocurrency hub as part of its efforts to diversify its economy.

With its glittering cities, palm-shaped islands and globe-spanning airlines, the United Arab Emirates has been a leading innovator in the Middle East for many years.

It has been actively ploughing resources into the latest range of innovations – Web 3.0, fintech and cryptocurrency.

This focus on digital finance aligns neatly with developments in Hong Kong’s financial industry. Cooperation in digital finance was one of the key topics on the agenda during Hong Kong SAR Chief Executive John Lee’s visit to the Middle East a year ago, organised by the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (HKTDC). The visit led to the signing of several cooperation agreements involving fintech.

The HKTDC’s Deputy Executive Director Patrick Lau recently paid another  visit to the UAE during which he discussed bilateral cooperation in fintech as well as sustainability projects and technologies, real estate and investment.

The business leaders and officials whom Dr Lau met included UAE Minister of State for Foreign Trade Dr Thani Al Zeyoudi .

HKTDC’s Deputy Executive Director Patrick Lau (centre) also visited the offices of real-estate developer Emaar Properties

Property is a key industry in the UAE, as any visitor to Dubai can tell at a glance. The same is true of Hong Kong. Dr Lau visited real estate developer Emaar Properties and met Ahmed Thani Al Matroushi, Chairman of Emaar Foundation, to understand the latest developments in Dubai and discuss how the firm could expand its business in Hong Kong.

Merging sustainability and digital ventures, the Metaverse Green Exchange (MVGX) quantifies reductions in carbon emissions by companies and technologies, allowing trading. Dr Lau met James Martin, Senior Advisor to Chairman of MVGX and Founder of business hub service provider Oak Road Ventures, to exchange insights on combining cutting-edge fintech with sustainability.

One UAE company, which has had a lengthy association with Hong Kong, is container port operator Dubai Ports World. Dr Lau met the Chief Operating Officer of Dubai Trade, DP World GCC, Mohamed AbuHamra to understand their latest operations and investments in Asia and particularly Hong Kong and Mainland China, and how HKTDC services can further benefit its developments.

Dr Lau believes Hong Kong’s presence in the UAE is now large enough to establish formal business associations there and noted that the HKTDC’s office in Dubai had received many queries from Hong Kong SMEs, which hoped to begin operating in the UAE.

The UAE could also be a substantial source of funds investing in and through Hong Kong since many state firms were looking to privatise.

In addition to going green and digital, the UAE is expanding its role as an investment hub, drawing in funds to buy into a wide range of enterprises and directing resources to promising project abroad.

FDI flows into the UAE rose 10% in 2022 year-on-year to a record US$23 billion, the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) reported, despite a 12% fall in FDI globally. The UAE also invested US$25 billion abroad, up 10% on the previous year.

Dr Lau also met representatives of investment groups, including the state fund firm Sharjah Investment & Development Authority.

Opportunities in the Middle East were discussed extensively at last year’s Belt and Road Summit. Several political and business leaders from the UAE, including HE. Abdulla Bin Touq Al Marri, Minister of Economy, , addressed the Summit.

The Middle East will also be highlighted at the Asian Financial Forum, organised by the Hong Kong SAR Government  and HKTDC later this month.

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