The Dubai marina is one of many posh locations around the city. 

Dubai trade and investment officials in Atlanta today must be used to complaints about offshoring, because they came prepared to preempt any talk of stolen jobs or compromised American competitiveness. 

Their unorthodox pitch (for foreign investment agencies at least): Invest with us to grow your sales — and jobs — at home. 

“We want to create business back here. We want to you to increase your exports not only to Dubai, but to use Dubai as the perfect gateway to re-export,” said Ibrahim Ahli, director for investment promotion at Dubai FDI.  (Meet the trade mission on Friday, March 27)

The hub argument is central to Dubai, a regional trade and commerce center in the United Arab Emirates where 85 percent of 3 million people are from another country. Members of the delegation alternatively called it a “stepping stone,” a “gateway” and a “marketplace” during a breakfast meeting at the law offices of Hall, Booth Smith P.C. downtown. 

The city’s international airport last year surpassed Heathrow Airport in London as the world’s busiest for international passengers — more than 70 million. The new Dubai World Central airport, unconstrained by the physical and regulatory boundaries that limit Heathrow and other competitors, is in the works. Proponents say it will eventually handle 200 million passengers, twice what Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, the world’s busiest, sees today. 

Central to realizing those efforts is solidifying Dubai’s reputation as the preferred crossroads for some of the world’s largest and fastest-growing regions. While Atlanta’s economic developers boast that 80 percent of the U.S. population is within a two-hour flight, Dubai’s leaders note that two-thirds of the world is within eight hours. The delegation, which is set to visit the state Capitol, the World Trade Center Atlanta and United Parcel Service Inc. during their two-day stay, is urging Atlanta investors to think of Dubai as a tool to reach huge markets beyond its own limited borders. 

“We are the trade gateway for Africa,” Mr. Ahli said, adding that merchants from the continent, hampered by domestic infrastructure and impeded by restrictive visa policies in the U.S. and Europe, use the emirate’s free trade zones and lenient visa policies to conveniently connect with clients in Dubai. With India, the same argument applies. Lacking domestic connectivity, some companies even ship products from north India through Dubai to reach south India in the same day, he said. 

“Come to Dubai and sell from Dubai,” said Ahmad bin Harib, who handles North American sales for the Jebel Ali Free Zone, a 22-square-mile duty-free area where 7,500 members have set up shop.

Within the zone, one of 23 in the emirate, enterprises are protected from even the future prospect of corporate taxes for 50 years, and they can own 100 percent of their company, bypassing UAE rules requiring foreign businesses outside the zone to work with a local partner who owns at least 51 percent of the business. 

Some $90 billion in trade passes through Jebel Ali each year, a figure that outstrips the gross domestic product of two-thirds of the world’s nations, Mr. bin Harib said. 

Ahmad Hamza, operations manager for Dubai Multi Commodities Centre, another trade zone, made the same argument, noting that 60 percent of the world’s tea and 40 percent of its physical gold pass through DMCC, which is home to 10,000 trading companies and offers a paperless process for setting up new entities. 

“Dubai is nothing more than a marketplace for companies that are doing business in the region and across different continents,” Mr. Hamza said. “This is how we position Dubai. It’s a marketplace. It’s where people come in, they set up, they get to network, they get to meet people from the across the world, sell, buy and conduct business, and this is where we see the opportunity.” 

With oil accounting for just 2 percent of its official economic output, Dubai is ramping up its tourism and convention sectors along with trade. Plans are in the works to boost visitors from 11.6 million to 20 million by 2020, when the city will host Expo 2020, the first world exposition to come to a Muslim country. 

One “secret” of Dubai’s success is a 72-hour visa that helps coax many of those 70 million travelers out of the airport and into the city’s packed shopping malls and 600-plus hotels. 

While agreeing that it’s a hub, especially for Africa, the one American in the delegation had another label for Dubai thanks to all the developments even within the emirate: “It’s an opportunity,” said Nasir Abbasi, commercial attache for the U.S. Consulate General in Dubai. 

Mr. Abbasi pointed to $25 billion in bilateral trade between the U.S. and UAE in 2014 and recent contracts from small ($7 million in artificial decking for the Jumeirah Corniche development) to huge (CH2M Hill’s joint deal with the British firm Mace to manage the expo site). 

Mr. Ahli also noted the strong presence of American retail brands, from fast-food chains to fashion houses, in Dubai.  

The delegation, which is also visiting the U.S. cities of Boston, Chicago and Washington, comes at an especially turbulent time, both geopolitically in the Middle East and in Dubai’s relationship with Atlanta. 

On Thursday the UAE joined a coalition of Persian Gulf states led by Saudi Arabia in carrying out air strikes against rebel forces in Yemen, raising the prospect of heightened sectarian tensions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the region. 

On the corporate battlefield, Atlanta’s Delta Air Lines Inc. and other U.S. airlines have taken carriers in the UAE and Qatar to task over $42 billion in alleged government subsidies they say have provided unfair advantages globally. Read more about that on Global Atlanta’s Airport City portal

Learn more about the delegation’s visit to Atlanta by contact John West, program manager for the World Trade Center Atlanta, at

Register here to meet the delegation Friday, March 27, at UPS headquarters. 

As managing editor of Global Atlanta, Trevor has spent 15+ years reporting on Atlanta’s ties with the world. An avid traveler, he has undertaken trips to 30+ countries to uncover stories on the perils...