x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Queen Elizabeth's visit strengthens UK ties

As the UAE welcomes Queen Elizabeth II new figures show that trade between the UK and the Emirates has grown at a healthy rate in 2010.

Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II's trip is a symbol of the solid economic ties between the two nations. Above, workers with the UK-based Halcrow construction company built Sheikh Khalifa Highway.
Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II's trip is a symbol of the solid economic ties between the two nations. Above, workers with the UK-based Halcrow construction company built Sheikh Khalifa Highway.

Trade between the UAE and the UK advanced 15 per cent to more than Dh22 billion (US$5.98bn) in the first nine months of the year compared with last year, boosting plans to significantly strengthen business links between the two countries by 2015.

UAE exports to the UK including oil rose 36 per cent to Dh6.4bn in the first nine months, compared with the same period last year. Imports from the UK rose 8 per cent over the same period to reach Dh15.8bn, according to data from UK Trade & Investment (UKTI).

Interest among UK businesses in setting up operations in the UAE has also risen rapidly in recent months, officials say, as companies identify opportunities for faster growth in emerging markets of the Middle East and Asia.

It is against an outlook of strengthening business links between the two countries that Queen Elizabeth II will today arrive in the UAE for the first time since 1979. William Hague, the British foreign secretary, will also be on the two-day trip, which is being viewed as an important step in further building political and business ties.

"The queen's visit comes at a juncture where political links are strengthening, which is good for business. Increasing trade is an indication that companies are realising after the financial crisis that unless they globalise they will fail. It is also a recognition of the UAE's position as an important trade hub," said Frances Moffett-Kouadio, the director of UKTI in Abu Dhabi.

Both countries are keen to reinvigorate trade and investment ties in a relationship dating back more than two centuries.

For the UAE, the expertise of UK consultancies, professional training and education institutions offers help in its bid to improve standards and develop a knowledge-based economy. The UK is keen to increase foreign direct investment at a time when domestic public and private expenditure remains thin.

Credited in part with helping to bring more focus to the relationship from the UK side is the country's new coalition government. The countries established a joint task force in September and one of its first targets was to increase bilateral trade and investment to £12bn (Dh70.19bn) by 2015, not including oil and defence spending, from the current £7.5bn.

Another of the task force's plans is to establish a UAE/UK business council to highlight areas for further private sector investment. Preparations are still under way for the development of the council, which would comprise chief operating officers of companies either present in both countries or considering expansion into both.

The British Business Group (BBG), based in Dubai, has reported a 20 to 30 per cent increase in the number of UK businesses expressing an interest in setting up operations in the UAE in the past 18 months. Demand for UKTI's advice services has also "rocketed" since September, Ms Moffett-Kouadio said.

"UK businesses are realising the UAE is the gateway to the new silk road and markets which are growing four or five times faster than developed markets," said Mark Beer, the chairman and chief executive of the BBG.

More than 4,000 UK companies are already operating in the UAE in sectors including construction and financial services.

"Our nations enjoy robust trade and investment ties, with the UAE currently being the UK's largest trading partner in the MENA region and its 13th largest export market," said Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, the UAE Minister of Foreign Trade. "High growth markets make us a vital cog in sustaining the UK's commercial success at both the local and regional levels."

The UK engineering company Halcrow Group, which has had a presence in the UAE for 55 years, is using its base in the Emirates as a headquarters for a MENA expansion.

"The great thing about the UAE is that it is a hub for the region with its transportation connections and facilities, which create a good quality of life for staff," said David Yaw, Halcrow's regional managing director.

Insurance and the asset management sectors are financial service areas in which UK companies might be able to develop a stronger footing, said Bashir Siman, a special representative to the UAE for financial services at UKTI.

Investments by the UAE's sovereign wealth funds and other investment companies are helping to stimulate the UK's economy. Projects by the Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company and DP World in London are expected to create tens of thousands of jobs.

tarnold@thenational.ae