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Swiss Group opens Zurich office to boost trade with UAE

Swiss UAE exports Reuters/Arnd Wiegmann
Watches represented 23.6% of Swiss exports to the UAE in 2021
  • Swiss firms use the Emirates as a re-export hub to the rest of the GCC
  • Around 20 Swiss banks in 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 do business in the UAE. 

The UAE’s $8.74 billion of exports to Switzerland in 2021 make it 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, with much of these goods subsequently re-exported to other GCC countries. 

The consultancy’s Zurich office will help Swiss companies and individuals pursue UAE-related business opportunities and assist with 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 businesses, entrepreneurs and investors understand how they can become part of the UAE’s journey,” said Swiss Group managing director Michael Lane. 

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

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

A June 2022 report by Switzerland’s UAE embassy describes the agreement as giving Switzerland “a clear competitive advantage”, highlighting the UAE’s cleantech, fintech, health and education sectors as offering notable opportunities for Swiss companies. 

Gold and jewellery represented 57.5 percent of Swiss exports to the UAE in 2021, according to the report. 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, although several GCC members demand customs duties on re-exported goods despite such levies being contrary to the free trade agreement, the report said. 

Switzerland exported $4.60 billion of goods to the UAE in 2021, according to the most recent IMF data. 

Saudi Arabia received $2.49 billion of 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’s $924.8 million ranks it 51st. Swiss imports from Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman combined totalled $128.1 million, according to the IMF. 

As well as trade in goods, many wealthy UAE residents also have Swiss bank accounts. Around 20 Swiss banks operate in the UAE to help these clients manage their accounts, the embassy report adds. 

Investments in the Middle East by ultra high net worth family offices will increase by at least 50 percent over the next decade, a senior executive at the Swiss global wealth manager UBS told AGBI in July.

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

The study found the Middle East accounts for just 4 percent of family offices’ global asset allocations due to a lack of opportunities, according to Josef Stadler, executive vice chairman of UBS Global Wealth Management, who manages some of the bank’s wealthiest clients.

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

“The amount of money chasing domestic asset opportunities exceeds the supply. So, if you’re a big investor you naturally have to find alternative places to invest your money.”

With Qatar having invested billions in the World Cup, Saudi Arabia unveiling a roll call of mega-projects as part of its Vision 2030 to diversify its economy, and the UAE continuing to make it easier for foreign investors to enter the market, Zurich-based Stadler believes the Middle Eastern demand and supply dynamic is changing.

“I think that 4 percent of global allocation will go up and it’ll take about 10 years to get there,” he predicted.