American Firms See Business Mecca In UAE's Golden Sands

UAE is America's largest export market in the Middle East and northern Africa.

American companies are racing to open outposts in the United Arab Emirates and pay homage to the country's ruling sheikhs who have turned their strategically-located federation into a business mecca. The Emirates' growing economic and political clout was underlined earlier this week as the UAE's foreign minister, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, addressed a meeting attended by executives from some of America's biggest corporations.

"There's no red tape," Sison said, saying the UAE was a "very efficient" country for U.S. firms to open a Middle East base. U.S. Chamber of Commerce executives who helped establish a new business coalition promised to ensure UAE firms, which are snapping up prime New York real estate and other American assets, get a fair hearing in Congress' halls of power. American politicians caused a major headache for UAE investors last year after several leading lawmakers torpedoed a multibillion-dollar bid by Dubai Ports World to takeover six U.S .ports on security grounds.

The UAE's economy minister Lubna al-Qasimi expressed dismay over the backlash, but said the country should have mounted a better public relations offensive.It appears doubtful such political hurdles would be raised again, partly because the UAE's stock now carries a clear 'buy' recommendation, spurred by its meteoric economic growth.

The UAE, which is about the same size as the U.S. state of Maine, sits between the West and the East, occupying a strategic gateway for companies seeking to bridge the global economy. "It's the perfect hub," explains Daeman Harris, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce executive who was instrumental in setting up the new business coalition. The Emirates borders Saudi Arabia and Oman and its coastline nestles key Gulf shipping lanes. Harris said the UAE's infrastructure, with its four-lane highways, modern airports and harbors, also appeals to savvy American investors.

The UAE is undoubtedly business-friendly, the website of its Washington embassy touts the lack of corporate tax. The federation's rapid growth has made it America's largest export market in the Middle East and northern Africa, according to US government figures. And U.S. firms are scrambling for a foothold: oil services giant Halliburton announced in March that it was moving its headquarters to Dubai where its chief executive Dave Lesar will be partly based.

Other household names including Cisco, Citigroup, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Microsoft and Oracle are also chasing revenues in the UAE, joining about 750 US firms already "thriving" in the country, according to ambassador Sison.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2007

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