Bertoli has been in Abu Dhabi heading up Luxembourg’s International Trade and Investment Office since August 2016. He started his career at the ministry of foreign affairs before switching to the economy ministry, where he was deputy director or foreign trade promotion for close to seven years. Bertoli was then posted to Luxembourg’s embassy in Beijing in 2012, where he served as deputy head of mission before moving to the UAE. In addition to his role at the LTIO in Abu Dhabi he is also deputy head of mission at the embassy and deputy director of Luxembourg Expo2020.
Natalie Gerhardstein: Can you tell us about your day to day activities and how the role has evolved over the years?
Loïc Bertoli: On one side we see how we can promote Luxembourg to foreign companies, to see Luxembourg as either a market in itself or a hub for the European market… with all the advantages of setting up a headquarter for a European entity in Luxembourg.
The other task, which is increasing in demand, but also in complexity and interest, is we have lots of companies seeking to develop their activities in the UAE and, furthermore, in the Gulf Cooperation Council countries. So, we have seen an increase of interest in the past, let’s say two years, with a number of companies really setting up a presence in in the region, opening a branch or subsidiary or even a new company to develop their activities. And these cover a very broad spectrum of activities…from construction, to cosmetics, consulting, real estate, FinTech, but also health technologies, space technology.
How precisely is the LTIO helping prepare Expo2020?
Participation at Expo2020 is not necessarily a goal in itself. It's part of a larger strategy of promoting Luxembourg on the world stage and more particularly in the Middle East region. So, we are working on the database on how to coordinate Luxembourg participation at Expo2020. When I say participation, that encompasses quite a broad spectrum of sectors of interests--of course, economic and financial, but also cultural… even sport. So here in Abu Dhabi we are, in a certain way, the executive arm of what has been decided and figured out in Luxembourg among the different stakeholders--ministries, institutions, government bodies, but also private and public organisations. That being said, the LTIO in particular, is cooperating very closely with the Chamber of Commerce, and of course the ministry of economy… Together with the Chamber of Commerce, which put a quite ambitious and extremely extensive commercial promotion programme in place, and the LTIO helps to put in place this programme. There will be a lot of trade missions organised by the Chamber of Commerce, together with the ministry of economy in different sectors.
What do you see as some of the advantages for companies that are looking to use the UAE as a platform, maybe to get into the Middle East market?
The advantages, of course, are the UAE market itself…it’s 10 million potential customer. But it’s also a quite mature market in a way that it has standards, rule of law. Procedures put in place in Abu Dhabi or in Dubai. So, companies will find a quite robust economic framework, legal framework, financial framework or fiscal framework here in the in the UAE when they want to do business. And since decades Dubai is offering a trade platform, if you want to gain access to all the neighboring countries quite easily. The GCC countries, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman. That in itself is already a quite an interesting advantage.
Dubai also offers direct access to many of the African countries and South Central Asian countries and even Asia, Southeast Asian countries, because of the logistical infrastructure, but also the experience Dubai has had of doing business with all these countries for many years. When I say to do business, it means to have the banking facilities, but also the financial facilities, investment facilities, but also the expertise in legal and trade matters when it comes to business with African countries. You don’t find that necessarily in other countries that easily, and in such a condensed way as Dubai. So, if you’re looking for companies targeting some of the African countries, with their specificities, you will find people who know how to tap into those markets, how to set up your presence...
So that's one of the advantages of Dubai. And what I said before, it’s also very similar to Luxembourg, a very cosmopolitan city and country, knowing that 90% of the people living in the UAE are foreigners or expats. And so you will find all kinds of expertise, of know how in the UAE. The UAE government is making a lot of efforts to ease business, to facilitate and to accelerate all the procedures for creating your company and also putting in place a lot of incentives to develop a new company.
And the third very important factor is the stability of the country in a region where stability is sometimes a little bit more vague or shaken. The UAE are one of the most, if not the most stable country in the whole region, with a sound and robust political system, and leaders who have really looked into developing the country and attracting foreign investors and companies. So that all makes it very interesting for lots of companies to set up the presence or to develop their activities here.
Are there any more challenging aspects to setting up there?
I mean, every new country where you try to do business has its challenges, and they are not so different. You have to understand the local mindset, you have to understand local habits and customs. And here everything is based on the long term. So, if you want to come for one shot, or very short-term business, it might be more difficult because everything is based on relationships, on trust that you build. And you cannot build trust in just a couple of days or weeks. It takes time, you have to be patient. And that sometimes can be challenging for companies who do not foresee a long time of building up relationships into their business model. But you have to do that. And also, a very important thing that companies or business people sometimes forget, UAE is a very mature market in the sense that you will find for every single service, product, whatever, already quite a lot of players. So, you have to come up with a good idea. You have to do your due diligence--is your product adapted to the country, local requirements or needs…do you already have competitors in the same sector?
Something that is fantastic in in France, Germany, or Belgium, might not necessarily be the same here in the UAE…you have to be flexible on that. And really look into the market if what you bring into the market is something which is needed, required and in demand here in the in the UAE. I think these are the two most important challenges, but they are not that difficult to overcome.
Once you've really looked at the market and you're interested in what's going on in in the UAE you also have to understand the law, the legal framework, which can be sometimes also seem to be complicated, since you have the Sharia law, which is the base of the foundation of all the of the jurisdictions. On the other side, you have free zones. And you have the Anglo-Saxon/British law, rule of law for everything which is related to prisons. So that might sound complicated. But once you have the right legal advice in the UAE, then it becomes quite clear and straightforward.
And this is something that your office can help people navigate, I understand?
Yeah, that's when I say that lots of companies are getting more and more interested in tapping into the UAE market. When we accompany them of course we make them aware that there are different, say layers of rule of law or jurisdictions here in the UAE. We are not a legal firm, so we don’t give legal advice, but we can help them to find the right legal advisor or law firm. And then to gather for them the needed information about how does the visa work, onshore or offshore… but in the last couple of months, last 12-18 months, people don't really have these questions anymore, and they start to really understand how it works. And the questions become much more sophisticated, also much more specific, where we see that the whole due diligence has been done before . So we are more now into helping companies to find the right partner, to find distributors or customers, or at least to help them to get in contact with the right institutions…
Given the amount of time you have spent in Abu Dhabi, what are some of the cultural highlights or most impressive memories from living over there?
The UAE is a very pleasant country to live with family. It’s probably the most secure country I’ve ever been.
You will find also a lot of activities to do in relation with nature. You have the sea, the mountains, you have the desert, which might sound a bit odd, but it's one of the most marvelous places I’ve visited. Walking into the dunes, that’s something amazing.
And then of course, you have Dubai, which is one of the most dynamic and buzzing cities I’ve ever been. And I’ve been to quite a lot, from Shanghai to Santiago de Chile. Sometimes people forget that the city was built in less than 30 years.
And the hospitality of the local people is something that is truly amazing. Even when you talk about business, you always have the sense of the hospitality behind all the discussions where they really want to please you and show you their country.