Dubai: a golden opportunity for the Swiss

Switzerland's gold trade has been vital to Dubai’s development Keystone

More than 70 Swiss firms are represented in the United Arab Emirates, making it the main centre for Swiss business in the Gulf region. Among the most important areas of business is the gold trade between Switzerland and Dubai.

This content was published on January 2, 2001 minutes

Not an oil-rich emirate, most of the wealth of the UAE's second largest emirate, Dubai, has been built on commerce and trade, primarily the gold re-export business.

Andre Bissang, a Swiss citizen working in Dubai for more than 20 years, opened the World Gold Council's first office in Dubai 10 years ago.

He told swissinfo the gold trade had been vital to the emirate's development. "As far as the evolution and infrastructure of Dubai is concerned it's probably been more paid for by gold exports than oil production."

A large amount of the SFr500 million ($294 million) worth of exports sent from Switzerland to the UAE every year comes in the shape of gold bullion.

"Switzerland is such an important partner to Dubai because of the major gold refineries which are located in Switzerland," explained Bissang. "Switzerland is still the biggest distributor of gold bars worldwide, responsible for about 70 per cent of world trade in bars."

However Switzerland's position in the business is being challenged as new producers in Australia, Canada and the United States set up gold refining plants of their own, cutting Switzerland out of their side of the business.

Dubai, however, is better positioned to continue at the heart of the gold business, remaining the major point of access for gold into the highly lucrative Middle Eastern and Indian markets.

"Dubai, which we call the city of gold, has now moved on from just being a centre for gold re-exports, organising itself over the last few years as a centre for wholesaling and the retailing of gold jewellery," added Bissang.

In Dubai's world famous Gold Souk, where hundreds of jewellery wholesalers ply their wares, retailers from Canada and Europe are much in evidence. That seems certain to secure the future of the gold trade between Switzerland and Dubai.

by Tom O'Brien

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