Swiss perspectives in 10 languages

setting up shop in transit paradise dubai

Dubai, the world's tenth-busiest port. Reuters

Swiss forwarding and logistics companies are benefiting from the breakneck growth in the Emirates freight business, and massive expansion of its harbours and airports.

But although Panalpina is the largest Swiss firm in the sector, it is only one of 1,800 registered hauliers in Dubai.

In 1993, goods imported into Dubai amounted to SFr13.3 billion ($10.9 billion). Ten years on, that figure has tripled – mind-boggling growth rates by Swiss standards, and almost a third of the amount imported into Switzerland.

The enthusiasm of René Wernli, 37, Panalpina’s regional director and a hauler by training, is difficult to contain.

Working out of an office next to Dubai City’s old airport, he says being in the midst of a stupendous boom is a stark contrast to conditions in Switzerland, where bickering over half a percentage point in growth is common.

“On the one hand, I’m aware of all the competition here.

On the other, I feel I’m realising my potential, what with the government and authorities going full steam ahead.”

Getting things done in a hurry is a priority in the Emirates, spurred by the need to prepare for the post-oil era.

Dubai’s ruler, Crown Prince Al Maktoum, has given permission for one of his palaces to be integrated into the World Central Jebel Ali International Airport.breathing down my neck.

Integrated platform

Besides the new international airport, scheduled to open next year, the first integrated logistics platform in the world, for storage

and distribution of cargo, is being built.

“It was conceived by Swiss firm, ADI Consulting, who worked out the details, ” said Wernli.

The international airport and the logistics platform, known as Dubai Logistics City, will be part of the Jebel Ali Free Zone, which already includes the world’s largest man-made harbour and has been operating as a free-trade zone since its inception in the 1980s.

The Emir of Dubai was said to be so impressed with the concept that he made 100,000 hectares of adjoining land available for use for “Cargo City”, or, Dubai Logistics City. In comparison, the cargo facilities at Frankfurt International Airport

cover a mere 16,000 hectares.

“There’ll be an airport with six runways. The combination of transit and toll-free movement of goods offers tremendous opportunities. Jebel Ali will make it possible for hauliers like me to integrate the movement, storage and distribute of goods,” explained Wernli.

Asian cargo

About one-third of cargo from Asia is brought to Dubai by ship, the cheapest mode of transport.

“But loads of airlines are flocking to Dubai, because the Emirates is boosting airport growth and providing capacity. Because of this, goods will be loaded from ships to airplanes in Dubai, and not

somewhere else, ” Wernli said.

Being Swiss, Wernli feels an obligation to provide Swiss quality and service. “However, in Dubai, these attributes are what tips the balance for all service providers. No one asks where you come from.”

Growth of the Swiss logistics branch has mirrored that of the country’s export industry.

Swiss logistics firms have set their eyes on markets abroad.

Switzerland’s central location in Europe has made it possible for the country to gather enormous experience in logistics and transport.

Dubai, one of the seven emirates comprising the United Arab Emirates, is the key hub for movement of goods in the Gulf region.
The Jebel Ali Free Zone was established in 1985. About 20 firms set up business there in its first year. Today there are 4,300.
It has the world’s largest man-made harbour, with over 67 boat slips.
Dubai’s new international airport will be completed in 2007. It will allow goods to be transferred toll-free directly from the harbour to airports.

(Adapted from German by Kathleen Peters)

In compliance with the JTI standards

More: SWI certified by the Journalism Trust Initiative

You can find an overview of ongoing debates with our journalists here. Please join us!

If you want to start a conversation about a topic raised in this article or want to report factual errors, email us at

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR