Sharief Fahmy is the chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce Abu Dhabi (AmCham), a place that he calls a one-stop shop for Americans seeking their path in the UAE and for local companies interested in understanding the American way. Numbers support the effort at AmCham Abu Dhabi in its 30th anniversary year: total bilateral trade between the US and UAE last year was US$25.4 billion. AmCham’s mission includes donations to the Emirates Red Crescent and other major foundations such as Make A Wish as well as to schools.
Have you already decided how you are going to vote in next month’s US presidential election?
It has been definitely entertaining to watch. In the AmCham we have members who are Republicans and Democrats. Either way, it will make an interesting administration going forward. I think the Obama administration worked very hard to promote international trade. We hope that whatever flavour either administration brings, it will still be positive for doing business here.
How does leadership change back home affect the way US companies invest abroad?
Americans have gone through numerous elections over the years and we always try, as expats living abroad, to be flexible but continue to push. I personally feel we still have a lot of work either way if it is a Hillary [Clinton] administration or a [Donald] Trump administration and we have a lot to do to educate and we continue to work very closely with all our partners, our US embassy in Abu Dhabi or the UAE embassy in Washington. Next year is going to be a good year for us, we have seen an increase in our memberships. There are big things, the World Skills Forum, the Expo 2020 down the road and theme parks opening.
A new administration could be kind of disruptive.
Eight years provides a certain level of stability. If it’s a Democrat administration, I hope there will not be changes, it’s just natural, but hopefully it won’t be as disruptive. If it is a Republican administration, they will have eight years [out of the White House] to recover from and their current candidate is not a traditional Republican, so it will be interesting to see some of the things that he will come up with especially in international business. He’s had some dealing in the Middle East already, so let’s see what happens. We are not partisan and our history is long standing.
Are US companies more cautious about coming here now?
The Middle East tends to be a market that the US companies pursue conservatively, but because of security and a lot of defence companies providing amazing technology, we see an increase in how they support the region. When you look at the entertainment industry, education or health care, the products that we are providing here have the right standards. That raises the standards. In a similar way (it happens) with the aviation, all these mega airports want to be the silk roads in the sky, they want to connect Asia and Africa, Europe and Australia and the United States through the Middle East. Also American culture is manifesting its way through very soft diplomacy through programmes here such as NYU or Cleveland Clinic as well.
The continued low oil price means a fiscal deficit for the UAE at least until 2017. What is your view of the economic situation at the moment?
From a Chamber perspective and from what we have seen, the economy hasn’t slowed down as much as we have heard people talk about. SMEs have a more challenging time. Many of them realise that payment cycles have been extended, but they are getting paid for what they do. Our members are still pleased for being able to find opportunity, but they have to be a little bit more patient on the cycle.
How do you measure the success of the AmCham’s Women Achieve Pledge to support the advancement of women into senior positions?
We have more than 50 companies signed up. The initiative is not just about women but about empowering business potential. It is not just at high level but also at a vocational level in companies such as Strata that puts women to work on a factory line. I am very proud of what we have done because it highlights what the community is doing. For example, Daman has a race team, the Daman Speed Academy, and two members are Emirati females and that really dispels the misconceptions about women in the Middle East, and Abu Dhabi is a beacon of hope to show that.
How do you view the success of Emiratisation efforts?
Emiratis are one-tenth of the UAE population and people misunderstand the term. As the country grows, you will see expats coming here and bringing through a young Emirati, pass on the knowledge and technology to them so that they work themselves out of the job that brought them in. As the country grows, there are jobs enough for all. We try to promote Emiratisation in a positive way in saying let us have Emiratis understand the American culture, engaging in internships so as they grow in their professional careers and they help grow American products.
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