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Top 8 countries that have supported UAE construction

23.03.2016 | News
Since its formation in 1971, the UAE has cultivated a highly international environment, with people from over 200 nationalities living within its borders. As a country that has been under rapid development over the past forty-five years, the country’s socioeconomic conditions have attracted not just individuals, but also corporations.

While there’s no doubt the UAE has achieved so much in such a short time thanks to a combination of national leadership and strategy, as well as the aggregate efforts of both people and companies from around the world, today’s article is to highlight which countries we believe have contributed the most toward the physical development of the UAE.

So how do we do this? While each country has its strengths, clearly not all are equal. Where some countries provide technology, others supply manpower or raw materials. This being the case, in alphabetical order, we’ve shortlisted who we feel are the top eight foreign (therefore excluding the UAE itself) countries that have provided the most aggregate support to the UAE’s overall development to date.


China’s growth may have faltered in the past year, however its meteoric rise over the past decade has seen it interchange with the United States as the world’s largest economy, and while its exports and trade, in combination with slower manufacturing and industrial production may be putting the brakes on, China has certainly increased its physical presence in the international markets with the UAE being no exception.

China State Construction Engineering Corp is a company that likely needs no introduction, particularly if you work in the construction industry. With an active portfolio of around $2 billion in the UAE alone, including the City of Light project on Reem Island, the Shamkha South Infrastructure Lot 3 in Abu Dhabi and the Viceroy Dubai Palm Jumeirah, CSCEC’s capacity to take on leviathan projects is extensive, making it a highly competitive main contractor.

While China may have a long list of major ‘top 20’ contractors, its hardware and raw materials have also made it a great partner for the UAE’s development.

Take for example, Sany; the crane and excavator company that manufactures crawler cranes from 110 – 550 tons, rough-terrain cranes from 40 – 85 tons and hydraulic excavators from 7.5 to 33.5 tons, and can boast working on projects including Business Bay, the Burj Dubai (foundation phase), the Oasis Centre and the UAE Index Tower.

Similarly XCMG, acknowledged as the world’s largest crane supplier had 50 cranes in Dubai in 2009 and while the economic downturn may have slowed its growth, the company is now going from strength to strength in UAE. According to Reuters, XCMG’s aggressive growth strategy, dubbed the “One Belt, One Road” initiative will focus on Middle Eastern countries, adding $2.5 trillion to China’s trade in the next decade, dubbed so by mimicking the same path as the historic ‘Silk Route’.

China’s exports to the UAE totalled $26.4 billion in 2014, with $4 billion representing machines, engines and pumps, $3.4 billion in iron and steel and a further $1.8 billion in iron or steel products.

While China may not have the recent historic diversity as some of the other nations in this list, its sheer scale and likely ongoing contribution certainly makes it worthy of making our list.


Arguably one of the most diversified contributors to the UAE construction industry, France has long established roots, whether through main contractors, consultants, suppliers or human capital.

Main contractors include Technip, the Paris-based project management, engineering and construction firm, which has had a presence in the region for over 30 years and whose repeat business includes a range of subsea projects for Dubai Petroleum Establishment (DPE).

Another example of a long-standing contractor is Bouygues, whose contributions include the five-star Ritz Carlton Hotel in the DIFC, and those of its subsidiary VSL, whose specialised expertise in post-tensioning has seen the company involved in projects including the world’s highest sky-bridge (Nation Towers, Abu Dhabi), ADNOC HQ, Burj Khalifa pinnacle and Ski Dubai.

Another company that can claim a long history in the UAE is Alstom. Awarded its first contract in 1975, Alstom has continued to support the UAE’s power and transport infrastructure ever since. Project highlights include the Dubai Tram in 2008 and to supply the ERTMS level 2 on-board signalling systems for diesel locomotives as part of the Etihad Rail project.

Similarly Lafarge, who entered the market just one year after Alstom, has one integrated cement plant, and four ready mix plants in three Emirates. Currently split into two business units, namely Lafarge Emirates Cement and Ready Mix Gulf, the latter has been in the UAE for over 33 years while the former’s plant in Fujairah, equipped with the latest technology has an annual production capacity of 3.2 million tons, while ensuring the highest level of environmental standards are maintained.

In terms of future proofing, electrical distribution and energy management company Schneider Electric Engineering successfully enhanced the Department of Transport’s business model by implementing a sustainable IT solution at their offices in Abu Dhabi.

Brining an artistic touch to the UAE, AS Architecture Studio can lay claim to the Jebel Hafeet Mountain Hotel in Al Ain, the HQ and showroom for Ahmad Seddiqi & Sons, the KLT residential tower Downtown and the residential tower M1-62 in Meydan City.

Certainly France’s strength in the UAE has been through its thorough diversification, and with more of an emphasis on future proofing coming into play, it is only likely to see its role increase.


Germany’s reputation as a byword for engineering quality will likely leave no surprises as to how it has made an aggregate contribution to the UAE’s development.

Siemens, whose activity in the UAE started in the 1970’s, has worked on a seemingly endless list of projects over the past 45 years. Recent projects include the $400 million contract for the extension of the Jebel Ali M-Station power complex in Dubai and equipping the Emirates SkyCargo terminal with one of its latest handling systems. Awarded in April 2015 and installed at Al Maktoum International, the system will handle an initial throughput of 700,000 tons of cargo per year.

Highlighting its application of sustainable technology, Siemens’ own head quarters in Abu Dhabi can boast the claim of being the first LEED Platinum office building in the Emirate and remains one of the most efficient office buildings in the country.

Bilfinger Deutsche Babcock Middle East is another construction firm, whose long-standing presence in Abu Dhabi since 1968 has helped to ensure a steady stream of business ever since. After delivering the first steam power plant in the country at Umm Al Nar, the company has continued to develop an extensive portfolio of projects in the power, water and oil and gas sectors for companies including ADNOC, ADGAS, GASCO, DUBAL and FERTIL. With an order intake of €96 million in 2013 alone, BDB Middle East now has approximately 1780 employees based in the region.

Moving into the hardware sector, and companies such as Liebherr need little introduction. Establishing a presence in Dubai in 2005, the company is a major provider of construction equipment and maritime cranes. As an example of how much equipment is in the UAE, of the 600 cranes in the Al Faris Equipment Rentals portfolio, Liebherr supplies 95%.

Whether applying technology, such as the new large crawler crane (LR 1500), which has a maximum load capacity of 500 tons, or the establishment of the company’s new aerospace logistics centre in Dubai last year, Liebherr continues to adapt to support the country’s ongoing development.

From a slightly more creative point of view, it is probably worth mentioning that German engineer and auto racer Hermann Tilke, the man behind numerous Formula One motor racing courses, is also the designer behind the Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi.

In macro economic terms, Germany’s exports to the UAE amounted to $15.4 billion in 2014, representing 6.6% of its overall imports with the lion’s share coming from machines, engines and pumps worth $4.1 billion and vehicles worth the same again.

Without having covered other major companies such as Hochtief and Bosch just to name a couple, Germany’s continued support with technology, experience and engineering excellence will surely continue to add value in the years to come.


Similarly to China, India is a country whose growth in all areas has made it a force to be reckoned with, in particular through its unique relationship to the UAE, however before we discuss this, it is worth mentioning the main contractors that have a long-standing relationship with the country and the projects they’ve worked on.

Shapoorji Pallonji International, who first arrived in the Middle East in the 1970’s, has worked on structures including Damac Park Towers, Fairmont Bab Al Bahr, Centro Hotel as well as infrastructure and hospitality projects such as the Meydan Heights and the Sulaiman Habib Hospital.

Amongst its various ongoing projects include the Amity University in Dubai and the Bloom Central mixed-use development in Abu Dhabi.

Other major contractors to have roots in the UAE include Larsen and Toubro, whose recent projects include the commissioning of the $400 million Umm Lulu Phase I & Nasr Phase I field development projects of Abu Dhabi Marine Operating Company. Once fully developed the two projects will contribute an additional 170,000 barrels per day. The projects will also boast the use of smart wellhead platforms with two kW solar power capacity on each.

While many countries in this list can claim to have a diverse range of business with the UAE, India’s primary claim to be a part of this list lies in its trade and expatriate community.

With bilateral trade between the two countries reaching $60 billion last year, the UAE is India’s third-largest trading partner, with India in return supplying large quantities of precious metals, iron, steel and copper.

In addition to this trade volume, India’s vast expatriate population, which numbers around 2.5 million or roughly a third of the UAE’s population, has been a significant contributor in terms of human capital and labour. It is estimated that 65% of the Indian expatriate community is blue collar, indicating that Indian’s have contributed significantly when it comes to the physical process of construction and labour.

While India may not yet compete with some of the other countries in our list where technology and diversity is concerned, its physical contribution towards the UAE’s development is unrivalled and will remain an essential component of national development.


Similarly to Germany, Japan’s prowess in the construction market can be found in the areas of engineering and construction equipment.

The most recognised project, completed by a Japanese company would arguably be the Dubai Metro. Opened on the 09/09/09, the main contractor was a consortium of Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Mitsubishi Corporation, Obayashi Corporation and the Kajima Corporation. Providing a vital link between the international airport and the residential/ business communities of Dubai, stretching in parallel with Sheikh Zayed Road, the Dubai Metro is considered one of the Emirate’s great achievements, providing a fully automated, affordable system of travel for the city which can be used all year round.

Thanks to an underperforming yen in recent years, companies such as Hitachi and Komatsu have been able to bolster their sales to $7.8 billion and $16.9 billion respectively and with the UAE earthmoving equipment market anticipated to grow at a CAGR of 7.99% between the period of 2014 and 2019, both companies stand to benefit from a fiscal advantage over their competitors.

Japan’s exports to the UAE stood at $17.7 billion in 2014 representing 7.6% of its overall imports which were mainly focused on machines, engines and pumps valued at $2.3 billion and iron or steel products, valued at $854.6 million.

As a country that has offered a consistent level of support across a diversified range of areas, Japan will likely remain a major contributor to the UAE’s development.


South Korea is a country that has made leaps and bounds in the past forty years, including developing some of the largest engineering contractors in the world, that also incidentally make up a significant proportion of its GDP.

Hyundai Heavy Industries, acknowledged as the worlds largest shipbuilder has been working in the UAE for many years, most recently on the $2 billion project to build offshore oil production facilities in a deal with the Abu Dhabi Marine Operating Company in the Nasr oil field, approximately 80 miles off the coast of Abu Dhabi. The facilities to be provided include a gas treatment plant and crude oil cracking plant.

Hyundai Engineering and Construction Co, a division of the Hyundai Development Group, can include the offshore terminal area at the Khalifa Port and Industrial Zone and the Satah Al Razboot Field Development project, while Samsung Engineering Company’s contributions include the Burj Khalifa, (built in conjunction with Arabtec and Besix).

Another South Korean company that also made its fair contribution to the UAE skyline would be SsangYong Engineering and Construction Company, the contractor behind the Jumeirah Emirates Towers and the Grand Hyatt hotel in Dubai.

While South Korea may not be as well diversified as some of the other countries in our list, the companies listed above certainly make it a contender when it comes to contributing towards the UAE’s on and offshore infrastructure.


Given the long history of the British and the UAE as a region, the involvement of British companies in its ongoing development was almost a natural progression. Where the construction industry is concerned engineering, construction and consultancy remain at the forefront of how British-based companies have contributed towards UAE growth.

Starting with Dutco Balfour Beatty, originally established in 1976 as a joint venture between Dubai Transport Company (DUTCO) and Balfour Beatty to undertake the construction of Mina Jebel Ali, DBB continued other major civil works including the arrivals terminal at Dubai International airport, “G” station power and water desalination facility and more recently the construction (as part of the joint venture) of the Dubai Mall.

Atkins, the design, engineering and project management consultancy, which also owns Faithful & Gould, is recognised as one of the largest engineering consultancies in the world and is also the name behind numerous iconic structures across the UAE including Yas Waterworld, the Business Bay vision, Burj Al Arab and the Jumeirah Beach Hotel.

Another multidisciplinary consultancy that has also been in the Gulf for a long period of time, with an equally impressive list of projects under its belt is Mott MacDonald.

Responsible for the Um Al Nar power and desalination plants, Masdar City, phase I of Dubai Marina and the district cooling on the Palm Jumeirah, the company was also appointed by the Abu Dhabi General Services Company (Musanada) to provide construction supervision services for the infrastructure of Lot 3 at South Shamkha where works included the supervision of 80kms of road works, a 110kms wastewater system and 90kms of potable water networks.

In the oil and gas sector, Mott MacDonald was also appointed project management consultant on Takreer’s Ruwais Refinery Expansion, the seven year North East Bab Phase III development project and the ADMA-OPCOS’s Lower Zakum 100MBD programme, for which it won the Offshore Project of the Year at the Oil & Gas Middle East Awards in 2012.

When it comes to construction machinery, Staffordshire-based JCB remains a global top three manufacturer and has long serviced the Gulf region, in particular the UAE.

Overall, UK exports to the UAE in 2014 totalled $11.6 billion, representing 5% of the country’s total imports with the primary commodities being precious metals valued at $4.3 billion and machines, engines and pumps worth $1.7 billion.

From a consultancy and engineering perspective, British companies have been able to contribute towards a diverse range of projects across the history of the UAE, and are well positioned to continue to offer their expertise and insight in the future.


Last, but by no means least on our list of nations is the United States. With a highly diversified list of multinationals, the list of projects and contributions is extensive.

Hailing from Irving, Texas, the Fluor Corporation is a Fortune 500 company that delivers engineering procurement, construction and maintenance, and project management to both governments and clients in diverse industries. Projects in the UAE include the front-end engineering and design for the Satah Al Razboot Field Development, program management consultancy on Shah Gas Development and the design/build of the U.S Embassy in Abu Dhabi.

Bechtel, acknowledged as the largest construction and engineering company and the fifth largest privately owned company in the U.S has completed projects in the UAE including Dubai International Airport, the Khalifa Port and Kizad.

When it comes to creative talent, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM) is the architectural firm behind the Burj Khalifa and the Cayan Tower in the Dubai Marina while Wimberley, Allison Tong & Goo (WATG), is the firm behind the luxurious Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi, which was incidentally constructed by Turner, a New York-based construction services company.

When it comes to consultants, Aecom has worked on the Siemen’s regional head quarters (mentioned earlier), City Hospital, Ferrari World, Etihad Towers, Al Raha Beach, and Abu Dhabi International Airport. Other major consultancies in the country include Gensler whose projects include the Abu Dhabi Financial Centre, DIFC, the Gate Building and the National Bank of Abu Dhabi, while Perkins+Will can lay claim to the American Hospital Dubai, Dubai International Airport Concourse II and the Jumeirah Emirates Hotel. HOK, another U.S based consultancy was also appointed as the lead designer for Dubai Expo 2020 Master Planner.

Within construction equipment, U.S-based companies include Case, Terex and Caterpillar, the latter of which being the largest manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, diesel and natural gas engines, industrial gas turbines and diesel-electric locomotives in the world and a significant provider of hardware to the UAE.

Other major corporations that deserve a mention include General Electric, United Technologies, Johnson Controls, Honeywell and 3M.

All in all, American exports to the UAE amount to $18.6 billion or 8% of its overall imports with the leading category being machines, engines and pumps valued at $4.7 billion in 2014.

Certainly the U.S’s fortitude across the board has helped to make it a significant contributor to the development of the UAE, and will likely remain that way for some time to come.

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