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Dubai's financial free zone aims to triple number of firms by 2024

[DUBAI] Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) said on Wednesday it would triple the number of finance firms in the free zone by 2024, aiming to entrench its position as the Middle East's most prominent banking hub, despite growing competition.

DIFC's growth, particularly in the years after it was created in 2004, intially came mainly from European and US companies, but half of the expansion targeted for the next decade will come from other emerging markets, the 'south-south trade corridor' from Latin America to South Asia, especially India and China, DIFC governor Essa Kazim said.

The other half of the growth will come from expanding existing activities such as investment banking and reinsurance, as well as pulling in more family-owned investment offices and asset management businesses, Kazim said at a news conference to announce DIFC's strategy for the next 10 years.

"Between high net worth individual assets, sovereign wealth assets and the pension funds, assets of the region stand at US$7 to US$8 trillion but less then US$1 trillion is being managed from the region. We want to change that," he said.

In November, Mr Kazim said the free zone would double over the next decade but the 10-year strategy envisions even faster growth: increasing the number of financial firms there to 1,000 by 2024, from 362 last year.

The workforce is targeted to reach 50,000, compared with 17,860 last year, and the DIFC will occupy 5.5 million sq ft (510 sq metres), compared to 2.5 million sq ft, Mr Kazim said, denying that a rival financial free zone recently opened in neighbouring Abu Dhabi would stifle expansion in Dubai.

"I think it's good to build a cluster within the UAE as we have done in other areas," he said. "We have more than one successful airline in the UAE and both are expanding."

REUTERS