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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 September 2018

‘Use Brexit to strengthen UK-UAE ties,’ UAE ambassador says

Sulaiman Al Mazroui said he is confident that the two countries can meet their bilateral trade target of £25 billion by 2020

UAE Ambassador Sulaiman Al Mazroui at his office in London. Stephen Lock for the National
UAE Ambassador Sulaiman Al Mazroui at his office in London. Stephen Lock for the National

A rebranded Global Britain is a natural for the UAE as the countries seek closer trade and economic ties in the wake of the UK’s exit from the European Union, the UAE’s Ambassador to the UK says.

“Outside of the EU the UK will be in a position to build on relations with its allies in the Gulf,” Sulaiman Al Mazroui wrote in CityAM.

“I am confident that the UK and UAE can meet our target of £25 billion in bilateral trade by 2020. There is certainly no reason why Brexit should hold us back.”

Mr Al Mazroui was writing after a meeting of the UAE-UK Business Council in London on Monday. A former academic and businessman, he was previously based in Brussels as head of the UAE Mission to the European Union.

The ambassador said he firmly believes “Global Britain” is a key partner for the UAE. “Global Britain has a partner in the United Arab Emirates,” he said. “That was my message when I attended the UAE-UK Business Council in London yesterday.”

Mr Al Mazroui illustrated his point by pointing to the strong trade relationships between the two countries. Between 2009 and 2016, trade between the UAE and Britain doubled, and it is now nearly £15 billion, he said. Furthermore, aside from the US and China, the UAE is Britain’s biggest export market outside of Europe.

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The UAE’s rapid growth, establishing itself as the leading trade hub in the Middle East, has no doubt helped cement those relations with Britain, the ambassador said.

“Over the course of my lifetime the UAE has established itself as the pre-eminent trade and investment centre in the Middle East,” he said. “Our geographical location, in the Arabian Gulf, means that we act as a hub for a market of 2 billion people.”

Gulf countries have also invested heavily in Britain, and not just in central London property, Mr Al Mazroui noted.

“UAE companies have invested across Britain, creating jobs and building homes,” he said. He highlighted some of the country’s flagship investments, including Abu Dhabi’s strong relationship with Manchester City Football Club.

Another example is London Gateway, a port on the River Thames which is operated by Dubai’s DP World. This, he said, has significantly enhanced the capital’s ability to handle container shipping, while also creating 12,000 jobs in the region.

The UAE has also made a billion pound investment to help transform two neighbourhoods in Manchester – Ancoats and New Islington. And Abu Dhabi company Masdar has been instrumental in helping to delivering Scotland’s first offshore floating wind farm.

“Investments by Emirates airline support more than 29,700 jobs in the UK, including many at Airbus factories in Wales and the south west of England, and also Rolls-Royce in Derby, where engines for the planes are produced,” he added.

The ambassador cited research which shows that out of all the British businesses looking to expand overseas, almost 70 per cent would consider the UAE.

Tourism is another area in which both economies rely on each other. The ambassador noted that one and a half million British people travel to the UAE each year, while 60,000 Emiratis come to Britain, where they spend around quadruple the amount spent by tourists from other countries.

Those figures, he said, could be much higher if visa-free travel was agreed between the two countries.

It is a topic that Mr Al Mazroui cares deeply about. During his time in Brussels, he was one of the pivotal officials who helped push the decision by the European Parliament to give Emiratis visa-free travel throughout the Schengen zone, something widely welcomed in the Emirates.

The hope is that, after success with the EU, Mr Al Mazroui can help to persuade British officials that cutting immigration red tape for Emirati visitors is a good thing.

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