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Swiss Group opens Zurich office to boost trade with UAE



Reuters/Arnd Wiegmann

Watches accounted for 23.6% of Swiss exports to the UAE in 2021

  • Swiss companies use the Emirates as a re-export hub to the rest of the GCC
  • About 20 Swiss banks in the UAE help wealthy residents manage accounts

Swiss Group, the Dubai-based business consultancy, is opening an office in Zurich this month to help Swiss companies and entrepreneurs conduct business in the UAE.

With $8.74 billion in exports from the UAE to Switzerland in 2021, it is the European country’s ninth-largest import partner, according to data from the International Monetary Fund.

The UAE is Switzerland’s 16th largest export destination, and many of these goods are then re-exported to other GCC countries.

The consultancy’s Zurich office will assist Swiss companies and individuals in pursuing UAE-related business opportunities as well as setting up companies or subsidiaries and obtaining visas.

Swiss Tower in Dubai’s Jumeirah Lakes Towers is already home to several Swiss-related companies, including Swiss Group.

“Every day we help companies, entrepreneurs and investors understand how they can be part of the UAE’s journey,” said Michael Lane, managing director of the Swiss group.

“Now we are extending our tailor-made consultancy services directly to our Swiss counterparts in Switzerland.”

A free trade agreement between the GCC and the European Free Trade Association – with Switzerland, Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein as members – came into force in July 2014.

A June 2022 report from the Swiss Embassy of the UAE described the agreement as giving Switzerland “a clear competitive advantage”, highlighting that the cleantech, fintech, health and education sectors in the UAE offer remarkable opportunities for Swiss companies.

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According to the report, gold and jewelry will account for 57.5 percent of Swiss exports to the UAE by 2021. Watches (23.6 percent), pharmaceuticals (6.6 percent), machinery (2.5 percent) and perfumes (1.6 percent) are other notable export segments.

Swiss companies tend to use the UAE as a re-export hub to the rest of the GCC, though several GCC members are imposing customs duties on re-exported goods despite such charges being in violation of the free trade agreement, the report said.

According to the latest IMF data, Switzerland exported $4.60 billion worth of goods to the UAE in 2021.

Saudi Arabia received $2.49 billion in Swiss exports, ranking the kingdom 24th in terms of total Swiss exports. Qatar (42nd, $731 million), Kuwait (49th, $521.4 million), Oman (63rd, $277.8 million) and Bahrain (64th, $271.2 million) are relatively minor export destinations.

In terms of exports to Switzerland, Saudi Arabia ranks 51st with $924.8 million. According to the IMF, Swiss imports from Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman combined amounted to $128.1 million.

In addition to trading goods, many wealthy residents of the UAE also have Swiss bank accounts. About 20 Swiss banks operate in the UAE to help these customers manage their accounts, the embassy report adds.

Investment in the Middle East by ultra-wealthy family offices will increase by at least 50 percent over the next decade, according to a senior executive at Swiss global asset manager UBS. AGBI in July.

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The most recent UBS Global Family Office Report 2022 surveyed 221 family offices around the world, which collectively oversee assets of $493 billion and have average assets under management of $2.2 billion.

According to Josef Stadler, executive vice chairman of UBS Global Wealth Management, which manages some of the bank’s wealthiest clients, the research shows that the Middle East accounts for just 4 percent of global family office asset allocations due to a lack of opportunities.

“There are limited opportunities to invest locally and domestically simply because the liquidity is not there in the domestic market,” Stadler said.

“The amount of money chasing opportunities for domestic assets is greater than the supply. So of course if you are a big investor you have to find alternative places to invest your money.”

Qatar has invested billions in the World Cup, Saudi Arabia unveils a list of mega projects as part of its Vision 2030 to diversify its economy, and the UAE continues to make it easier for foreign investors to enter the market. Stadler believes that the supply and demand dynamics in the Middle East are changing.

“I think 4 percent of the global allocation will increase and it will take about 10 years to get there,” he predicted.