The search for raw materials has long led those in need to faraway places.
Just as American and European oil companies plunged the first exploration rigs into the inhospitable Arabian desert many decades ago, UAE industrialists are today travelling to Africa to hammer out deals ensuring supply to their production sites.
Last week, Mubadala, Abu Dhabi's strategic investor in industrial projects, and the Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinée (CBG) agreed on a long-term supply deal for bauxite - the metal used in aluminium production.
Mubadala and Dubai Aluminium (Dubal) were already invested in bauxite production in Guinea, the small African country that is the world's biggest supplier of the material.
Mubadala and Dubal are driving the development of an aluminium sector that already ranks fifth in the world.
Dubal last year shifted more than 1 million tonnes of the metal to buyers in 45 countries. Once a Phase 2 expansion of its smelters is complete, Emal - a 50:50 joint venture between Mubadala and Dubal - will churn out an annual 1.3 million tonnes.
For Dubai, aluminium production is another way to make money in an emirate that cannot rely on oil receipts for a living. In Abu Dhabi, Mubadala is a key player in extensive efforts to diversify away from an oil economy.
An exporter of millions of barrels of oil every day, the emirate is not used to scouring the planet for raw materials, and engaging in lengthy negotiations for supply rights. But there are no doubts over the importance of such deals.
"By securing a long-term, high-quality source of raw materials for the UAE's aluminium industry, this agreement underpins our strategy to develop a global champion in this sector," said Waleed Al Mokarrab Al Muhairi, the chief operating officer at Mubadala, as the agreement was announced.
Mubadala put its annual bauxite requirements at 5 million tonnes per annum by 2017.
The supply contract will help CBG to boost its production to 20 million tonnes a year from the current 13.5 million.
While Abu Dhabi has been cast into the unfamiliar role of a resource gatherer, aluminium production also plays to the emirate's traditional strengths. Production requires vast amounts of natural gas that is needed to fire up the red-hot smelters.
Gas is increasingly short in the Arabian Gulf, but it remains far cheaper than in other parts of the world. This presents a formidable advantage in a competitive sector.
"Energy is a very important factor for aluminium production," said Yu Dehui, a vice president of the China Power Investment Corporation, at a conference in Abu Dhabi this year. "In China, energy prices are high In the Gulf they are relatively cheap."
This advantage may not hold, however. In the United States and Canada, which rank above the UAE in terms of aluminium output, natural gas is now flowing freely due to the shale gas revolution that has brought the price of gas crashing down. Australia, another big aluminium producer, is also growing its gas supply fast.
Chinese producers will remain hamstrung by expensive gas for the time being, maintaining the leverage Gulf players enjoy in that key export market.