Major opportunities available in the development of smart cities and renewables

The UAE ranked 13th on a global index of the most attractive destinations for infrastructure investment in the world, a new report found.

"Flourishing" Public Private Partnership models, proven leadership in environmental sustainability and openness towards the private sector meant the UAE ranked highest among Middle Eastern countries among infrastructure investors, according to a biennial report compiled by law firm CMS and inspiratia -- a global data company for the renewable energy and infrastructure sectors.

"Projects such as KKR and BlackRock's 40 per cent stake in Abu Dhabi National Oil Company's 750 kilometre midstream oil pipeline continue to demonstrate the country's attractiveness for infrastructure investment," said the report.

The $4 billion (Dh14.69bn) equity transaction by the private equity firm and the world's largest asset manager, executed in June, represented the first investment of its kind in a national infrastructure asset in the region.

Seven Middle East countries feature in this year's CMS index. Saudi Arabia came second regionally and 21st overall, owing to the country's increasing openness to international private participation, improved political stability and the recent announcement of a $425bn boost to kingdom's Vision 2030 infrastructure plans. Oman came 34th, while Kuwait took 35th place. All GCC countries dropped down from their 2017 rankings, except for Kuwait, which was a new entrant to the list.

Overall, the Middle East is making "significant headway" in becoming a hub for global smart and sustainable cities, the report said.

"With extensive government reforms opening up the country (UAE) to further investment and state-led privatisations continuing across the region, the Middle East looks set to continue on its strong growth path," said Mark Rocca, co-managing partner at CMS Dubai.

Abu Dhabi's Masdar City and the Zayed Smart projects, Kuwait's $4bn South Saad Al Abdullah smart city initiative and Saudi Arabia's $500bn Neom project, which is expected to generate $100bn in the economy by 2030, have boosted the region's attractiveness for infrastructure investment, noted CMS, which has 70 offices in over 40 countries, in the study.

Supportive PPP legislation in the UAE, Kuwait, Oman and soon Saudi Arabia is set to increase investor confidence further and support the region's economic diversification, said the report.

The report also highlighted the fact that the region has "some of the most ambitious solar and onshore wind projects".

Globally, Germany overtook the Netherlands to secure top spot in the 2019 index. Europe claimed six of the top 10 countries in this year's index. The continent is brimming with opportunities in 5G, renewables, airport expansion and electrification of transport, the report found.

"The Infrastructure sector continues to present a positive picture in an uncertain world. It is connecting people worldwide at an unrelenting pace," said Kristy Duane, co-head of infrastructure and project finance at CMS.

The CMS study ranks 50 countries in order of investment attractiveness by analysing data against six criteria including economic status, sustainability and innovation, tax environment, political stability, ease of doing business and private participation.

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