Small countries seeking to build a diversified relationship with the UAE should take note of Jersey’s experience, argues Peter Hellyer
A relationship built on mutual expertise and excellence
Last week, in what has become an annual, and sometimes a twice-a-year, event, I had the opportunity of escorting a senior minister from the British Channel Island of Jersey on a short tour of the UAE, designed to promote the relations between Jersey and the Emirates. For me, it’s a labour of love – however much I may feel at home here, I retain an abiding affection for the island where I spent much of my childhood and which I visit every summer. I’m delighted to be able to contribute to a deepening of the ties between my two homes, whether through helping to facilitate government-to-government meetings or by providing introductions to local business organisations at both ends.
It’s been over a decade since ministers from Jersey started to visit the Emirates. Over the years, the relationship, initially based on the UAE’s resident companies and individuals making use of Jersey’s status as one of the world’s top international finance centres, has not only grown stronger, but has also begun to diversify. The finance industry remains of key importance, of course, and I am amazed at the frequency of disclosure by prominent Emiratis that they are well aware of what Jersey has to offer in terms of a secure, stable and well-regulated jurisdiction.
At the same time, however, this little country – around the size of Abu Dhabi and with a population of about 100,000 – has succeeded in developing links in a variety of other fields. As the visiting chief minister, Senator Ian Gorst, learnt last week, the Jersey-based Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust has become a strategic partner of Al Ain Zoo. In food, one of Abu Dhabi’s top agribusinesses has recently signed a joint-venture agreement with the second-largest potato grower in Jersey, which will involve activities here and throughout the region.
In engineering, discussions are under way between a Jersey firm specialising in the restoration of classic cars and one of the capital’s leading automobile companies. A Dubai firm of commodity traders is looking at establishing links while a major UAE-based oilfield services and contracting company is registered in Jersey.
All of that has happened in just 10 years, along with much else that is, naturally, subject to rules on commercial confidentiality, and there will be, I guess, more to follow.
One reason for that diversification of relations is the fact that the government in Jersey has decided that the UAE is a priority market and has ensured that there are frequent visits to underscore its commitment to developing ties. The UAE, too, seeks to diversify its international relations, not just at a political level, but in other spheres, as a glance at the country’s statistics on the evolving pattern of foreign trade and investment will confirm. There’s a genuine interest here in what other countries, both small and large, have to offer.
What is also evident is the way in which UAE institutions and businesses have sought out particular features of Jersey which can offer excellence, in whatever field, that can be transferred here or which can, in other ways, be of benefit to the UAE.
A similar pattern of the creation of strategic partnerships and the sharing of expertise can be found elsewhere in the UAE’s economy. Structures such as Burj Khalifa, the Zayed National Museum and the Louvre Abu Dhabi demonstrate the capacity of the country to create, in association with world-class architects, impressive modern buildings. Less well-known, the Helix hunting rifle, manufactured in Germany by a UAE-owned company, is a state-of-the-art product that owes its inspiration to an Emirati hunter. Parts of the latest generation of Airbus aircraft are built here, while UAE-designed and UAE-made pistols are being exported to numerous markets overseas. All this suggests that there has been a successful transfer of expertise and excellence.
The UAE may be well-endowed in terms of its natural resources, in terms of its oil and gas reserves, anyway, but there are areas in which it cannot compete with the world’s major economies. By pursuing such partnerships, however, it has the potential to continue to be of growing significance in the global economy.
Perhaps other small countries seeking to build a diversified relationship with the UAE should take note of Jersey’s experience and promote their own niche areas of expertise – as long as they don’t try to compete with my favourite island, of course.
Peter Hellyer is a consultant specialising in the UAE’s history and culture