International distancing is not an option for economies or businesses

International distancing is not an option for economies or businesses

In desperate times, courage and innovation somehow find a way to ignite the creative spark of humanity. And so, 102 years ago, with the tenacity and pioneering spirit of a small group of business people, the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC) was born.

This group came to be known as “the merchants of peace”. As Chairman of ICC-UAE, I take this role, as a merchant of peace, to heart.

Despite being only half the age of the ICC, the UAE as a nation is a role model for economic growth and development. The diversification of the economy is driven by trade, logistics… and welcoming all nationalities for work and tourism. I see innovation and economic diversification as being the key to our success, that of delivering on the mission of the ICC; which is to make business work for everyone, every day, everywhere.

The ICC operates in more than 130 countries and facilitates international trade transactions valued at trillions of dollars through the establishment of rules and standards, dispute resolution and advocacy.

Trade and the application of smart technology, along with associated services, are now primary drivers of the UAE economy. This scenario will not only continue, but accelerate. According to Dubai Customs, customs declarations grew 30 per cent in 2020, with 97 per cent of transactions having automated approval through its Smart Workspace Platform.

Collective reach

Impressive, yes, but we can only truly achieve collective success in international trade by reaching out to our trading partners, re-opening trade routes, and sharing expertise. The positive effects of the normalisation of relations with Israel and the recent opening up of borders with Qatar are already rippling through the UAE economy. And we can already see the positive impact on trade.

On a global scale, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and progress on the China-EU investment agreement are encouraging. We can also expect US President Joe Biden to steer the US back to multilateralism and open trade policies.

The proposition for the establishment of the ICC was propelled by the stark realities facing societies following the events of World War 1, including economic collapse, trade protectionism, insular thinking, and fear.

As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, we once again face similar challenges.

Keep the innovations coming

When COVID-19 struck it derailed significantly operations within the ICC-UAE. However, ICC-UAE, like its parent organisation, is founded on the strength of our membership. This collective strength enabled us to innovate in the face of uncertain circumstances and to diversify our means of communication and interaction with members, and also reach out to other ICC national committees around the world.

When I look back on the activities of ICC-UAE before the pandemic, they were successful and high standards were set. Furthermore, ICC-UAE would have been among the Top 10 most active ICC representative national committees.

The pandemic has pushed us to be more resilient, more efficient, and more understanding of the needs of members. The increased pace of innovation and economic diversification was spearheaded by adopting advanced digital technology in our business processes and communications.

We did not reinvent the wheel... we just fitted it with better tyres.

During 2020 alone, ICC-UAE worked in partnership with 10 other chapters of the global network in delivering joint trade facilitating events. One virtual event alone attracted over 800 participants from 21 countries.

Power events

We delivered events in partnership with the Institute of International Banking Law and Practice and Asian Development Bank. Next month we have high-level virtual forums with the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), part of the World Bank Group, as well as the Islamic Trade Finance Corporation (ITFC), part of the Islamic Development Bank.

We will host our Annual International Trade & Finance Conference from April 6-7, both in-person and virtually.

During 2020, we also reached out to develop relationships with other global stakeholders who share our vision of promoting trade, investment and creating a sustainable business environment.

Like our fellow brothers and sisters who formed the International Chamber of Commerce 102 years ago, we are coming out of a kind of war. The war is not yet won, there will be hardships to be endured and hurdles to be overcome, but like our predecessors, we must forge ahead in a spirit of cooperation for the collective good of the international community.

UAE’s powerhouse ranking

The approach of the UAE health authorities has already provided more than 4 million COVID-19 vaccines. This decisive approach will support the UAE, the region and the broader world, as the UAE is now one of the most important links in the global trade supply chain.

As a call to action, I encourage trade practitioners to share their expertise and to engage with us in the facilitation of secure international trade by joining the truly global network of the International Chamber of Commerce - the world business organisation.

- Humaid Mohamed Ben Salem is Chairman of International Chamber of Commerce UAE (ICC-UAE).