x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Businesses warn US on cost of Iran sanctions

The UAE has told Washington that it is being damaged economically over applying sanctions to Iran, when other nations are doing so less rigorously.

Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair is a prominent businessman and the chief executive of Mashreq. Ryan Carter / The National
Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair is a prominent businessman and the chief executive of Mashreq. Ryan Carter / The National

Prominent businessmen raised the issue of damage to the UAE's economy caused by the United States-led sanctions against Iran at a high-level meeting of Emirati and American officials in Abu Dhabi this week.

The Emirates business community believes it has been disadvantaged by rigorously applying sanctions against Iran and has lost trade to other countries that have not been so scrupulous in observing them.

Abdul Aziz Al Ghurair, the prominent Dubai businessman who was present at the talks on Wednesday with an American trade delegation led by Jose Fernandez, the assistant secretary at the US department of state, said: "We discussed Iran in a private meeting. The UAE is the 18th largest trading partner of the USA, and we value the relationship, so we respect any international sanctions and we will go along with that.

"But the interests of the UAE business community must also be taken into consideration. We don't like it when we respect sanctions and others don't, and then trade gets shifted to those countries. Everybody knows who they are.

"If you apply sanctions, you have to do it across the board, or allow us to trade with our partner. Trade involving bananas, apples and washing machines is not strategic, but is suffering," he said, speaking on the sidelines of a Dubai conference.

Mr Al Ghurair, the chief executive of Mashreq, declined to identify which countries the UAE believes are involved in Iranian sanctions-busting.

Mr Fernandez, on a visit to discuss US-UAE economic relationships under the banner "Building prosperity together", declined to comment directly on Iranian sanctions. "We expect good advice and strong criticism from our friends. If I want to get compliments, I talk to my mother," he said.

Official statistics published this week showed that sanctions are beginning to bite. Trade between Dubai and Iran fell by nearly a third, from Dh36 billion (US$9.8bn) in 2011 to Dh25bn last year. Financial restrictions, imposed as part of the US-led campaign against Iranian nuclear policy, have made all types of trade more difficult.

Mr Fernandez said economic relations between America and the UAE were "excellent, and only going to get better", noting that trade last year boomed by 40 per cent.

"We know it's a difficult neighbourhood in difficult times, and we realise we've got to be in constant contact with our friends. We have to show how much we value economic relations with the UAE and how much we want to improve it."

Mr Fernandez said most of the boom in US exports to the Emirates consisted of transportation equipment and aviation exports.

Questioned about the American decision in 2006 to halt the sale of US ports to DP World as part of the Dubai acquisition of P&O, he said: "We have got a perception problem and we have to educate the US public on the benefits of economic relations with the UAE. We've got to explain that you're a wonderful trading partner."

Other issues discussed at the private meeting in Abu Dhabi included intellectual property rights, strategic trade and defence and technical assistance to help to train Emirati workers of US companies in the UAE.