Feeling the lure of foreign shores?

Even though the construction boom in the Gulf shows no signs of slowing down, GCC companies are well aware of opportunities much further afield. Tim Wood details some of the projects that have recently been unveiled across the world.

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By  Tim Wood Published  July 1, 2006

With Dubai adding 560 more buildings to its skyline since the start of the year, there are plenty of contracts available for the hundreds of contractors battling for work in the Gulf. But for some, the world really is their oyster. We learnt in the first half of this year that Pakistan, India, China and Syria, as well as far-flung destinations like the Seychelles and Mauritius, will be home to some of the world’s most prestigious developments. Let’s take UAE developer Emaar, for example. Just weeks after it unveiled plans to invest US $9 billion (AED33 billion) in developments in Morocco, it announced a $1.82 billion real estate project in Tunisia — the 442ha Marina Al Qussor. Emaar chairman, Mohammed Ali Alabbar, admits: “With its thriving tourism industry, Tunisia is a significant market to roll out such communities that offer everything from a thriving resort atmosphere to a quiet retreat.” Emaar has also allocated $9.9 billion for various projects in Turkey, while in India, Emaar’s joint venture company has acquired land to build luxury hotels in Delhi and Kolkata. The value of this kind of investment cannot be underestimated. Take, for example, the major agreements signed by Emaar and Dubai World earlier this month, which account for more than a quarter of Pakistan’s gross domestic product of $118 billion. Emaar is spending more than $20.39 billion on four major projects in Islamabad and Karachi, while Dubai World is looking to invest $10 billion in the construction of a modern waterfront on the Karachi coastline, as well as ports work across Pakistan. The duo’s investment signals a new beginning as far as foreign investment in Pakistan is concerned — last year only $2 billion was pledged from firms outside of the country. For Ali Alabbar it is just the beginning. “These current projects are only a small and initial part of our commitment to providing world-class living and infrastructure in Pakistan.” Emaar has also signed a deal with the Syrian General Organization in a new venture to focus on socio-economic developmental projects in Syria. The new company will roll out, in phases, affordable housing units at different locations across the country, targeting the middle-income segment. Syria is currently seen as a middle-income developing country embarking on an incremental economic reform. But after property laws were revisited and new strategies formulated it has suddenly become a very attractive destination for development. Meanwhile, the largest private real estate firm in the UAE, Damac, is making noises of its own by venturing into China for the first time, with Trumpet Bay, its $2.7 billion mixed-use project in the Tanggu District. Hussain Sajwani, Damac Holding chairman, says: “China is regarded as an economic giant. The country has potential for substantial real estate and economic growth and we plan to introduce a number of projects within the country.” The Atlas Group is another who realises the potential for foreign investment. Showing great ambition — it only entered the hospitality sector in the UAE two months ago — it foresees a major presence in the exotic Seychelles and Mauritius inside five years. However, it is not all one-way traffic, with major players from other countries keen to tap in to the GCC’s construction boom. The Gulf Corp Countries Contract Consortium has been set up specifically to profit from the $88.5 billion construction and property-related contracts being made available to Malaysian companies in the Middle East. And South Korean firms are also arriving in their droves citing the good work already carried out by Sanyo on the Emirates Towers and, currently, by Samsung on the Burj Dubai. Sungwon, along with Dubai Properties, has signed a deal worth $409 million for the Sungwon project, which will involve the roll out of residential, commercial and retail developments across the emirate. Rival South Korean giant Bando is to build two 50-storey towers in Business Bay at a cost of $350 million. Chairman Hong Sa Kwon, admits: “Dubai was one of many countries — including the US and those in South East Asia and the Middle East — who we spoke to. But we felt Dubai is the hub for not only the Middle East, but Europe and other continents as well, and we feel it has the potential to become even bigger, stronger and more prosperous than Hong Kong or Singapore. “There is a lot of investment pouring into Dubai from western countries and other regions in the GCC area and that makes Dubai a very attractive investment,” concludes Kwon. So are many other countries around the world if the variety of projects announced in the first six months of this year are anything to go by.

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