When I was a boy in the 1940s, I was enthralled by my grandfather's stories of Arabia when he came back from working on new oil facilities: Bedouin tribesmen riding camels through a mighty desert within sight of Americans building what would come to be one of the world's greatest oil producers made contrasting images in my young mind.


He predicted that the oil-rich region would modernize so fast that people would be dizzy with the pace of modernization. I didn’t understand that when my prescient grandfather regaled me with his version of the "Arabian Nights" almost 70 years ago.

His Saudi work visa was handwritten and dated 1946. It had stamps from immigration officials in exotic cities like Cairo, Athens, Rome, Paris and London. After looking at the passport I was probably the only 7-year-old kid in California that had ever heard of all these places and heard stories about them.

Fast forward to 2015, and I find myself sitting at a conference table with His Royal Highness Sheik Ahmad Bin Saqr Al Qasimi, chairman of the Ras Al Khaimah Investment Authority of the government of Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) and brother of the ruler of RAK. The emirate of RAK is better known as one of the seven United Arab Emirates (UAE) — the fabulous UAE that has the world's fourth-largest oil reserves, is ranked 17th in natural gas reserves and includes the world-class cities of Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

Since independence from Great Britain in 1971, the UAE has consolidated its community into seven independent monarchies joining them together as a nation that has developed into a regional power allied with the West on economic growth, defense and business matters.

The RAK conference to which I was invited started in Los Angeles and was going to Houston next. Why?

The government of RAK has founded a tax-free business free-trade zone in the emirate with port, office, warehouse and manufacturing facilities just a 45-minute drive from the newly crowned busiest international airport in the world in Dubai.

Over 8,000 international companies and firms are located or headquartered in the RAK Free Trade Zone, a tax-free zone doing billions of dollars' worth of business. Yet only 2.7 percent of those businesses are American. The zone wants more American firms.

Setting up a business, we are told by the Harvard graduate CEO of the Raz Al Khaimah Free Trade Zone (RAKFTZ), Peter Fort, is as inexpensive as $2,000 (it is 7,000 in UAE dirhams, the local currency) in a one-stop-licensing and fees location. As 80 percent of the UAE workforce is composed of foreign nationals, finding employees is not hard nor is it difficult to bring in employees or to arrange for all the business documentation and visas necessary to do business.

Fort, who has lived in the UAE for a decade, and the RAK for the past two years, emphasizes the central location of the RAK free trade zone in the middle of millions of people, from Africa on the west to India and Southeast Asia on the east. All those millions are within a four-hour flight of the Dubai international airport.

Being a Californian, Fort's mention of quality of life caught everyone's attention when he was asked about housing. He pointed to a high-rise building he lives in on the water and that a 1,500 to 1,700 square foot two bedroom, two bath unit costs about $1,200 per month. Hmmm.

The same unit in Southern California might cost $10,000 to $15,000 per month.

The entire point of the trip, of the interview at the conference table with Sheik Ahmad is summed up in his own words and my reaction to those words: "We come here to do business."

My reaction: anything that adds to robust world trade and that benefits consumers in the Western Hemisphere is positive.

My grandfather would be stunned at the existence of a thriving rich world business center built on the empty desert he labored so hard in seven decades ago. Before oil and the business free trade zone, the region's primary industry was diving for pearls in the Persian Gulf.

The Bedouins that my grandfather saw in 1946 conducting trade by camel caravan are still around, but world business is now done by jet (the UAE has spent billions of dollars for new Boeing jets for the national airline), by container ships, by email and instantaneous worldwide computerized financial transactions — all this in a modern tax-free business free trade zone where English is the language of business.

Contreras formerly wrote for Creators Syndicate and the New America News Service of The New York Times Syndicate.