Yemen aims to copy booming Dubai

by Hammoud MounassarSun Apr 22, 4:45 PM ET Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh vowed on Sunday to knock down obstacles to foreign investment in his impoverished country, saying he wanted to emulate the booming Gulf emirate of Dubai. "The door of investment in Yemen is open to all investors. The state is keen on eliminating any hindrances to investors, learning from the experience of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), especially Dubai," Saleh said at the opening of a two-day conference on exploring investment opportunities in Yemen. Some 1,000 investors, half of them from oil-rich Gulf Arab states and the rest from Yemen, attended the gathering organised by the Yemeni government and the secretariat of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The UAE is a GCC member alongside Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Dubai, one of seven emirates making up the UAE federation, has turned in a few years into a regional business and tourism hub coveted by foreign investors. The capital Abu Dhabi, which sits on the bulk of the country's oil resources, is also investing petrodollars in industrial and touristic projects. "We are ready to revise investment laws, including the banking law, taxes, and other (regulations) in light of the observations of investors with a view to eliminating any obstacles to investment," Saleh said. The state General Investment Authority will work on providing facilities to investors and simplifying business procedures, he said. Lands would be made available to investors at attractive prices provided they start building their projects on them within six months of purchase, Saleh said. Foreign investors want Yemen to open up its banking and insurance sectors and to introduce a more advantageous tax system. Industry and Commerce Minister Yehia al-Mutawakkel said the government would outline 100 investment opportunities worth an estimated eight billion dollars in the energy, minerals, tourism, infrastructure and other sectors during the conference. GCC secretary general Abdurrahman al-Attiyah said Gulf leaders were seeking to assist Yemen's development in order to prepare it to integrate with the Gulf economies. The GCC states are Yemen's top trading partner and a major destination for Yemeni labour, he said.

Attiyah said the success of last November's international donor conference in London, during which 4.7 billion dollars in aid were pledged for Yemen up to 2010, shows the benefits of cooperation between Sanaa and the GCC, which took part in organising the parley. The pledges have since gone up to five billion dollars, he added. The only country in the Arabian peninsula without direct access to the Gulf and its only republic, Yemen has been knocking at the GCC's door for more than a decade. The GCC monarchies, which forged their alliance in 1981, have been in no hurry to admit the poor country of more than 20 million into their ranks. However, in December 2001, Yemen finally won GCC approval to join some of the bloc's councils -- in the fields of education, social affairs, health and sports.

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