x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Group seeks to expand trade with the US

A trade advocacy group will focus on US/UAE relationships in property, logistics and infrastructure.

Abu Dhabi Investment Council is looking at acquiring a majority stake in the Chrylser Building in New York.
Abu Dhabi Investment Council is looking at acquiring a majority stake in the Chrylser Building in New York.

ABU DHABI // An advocacy group for trade between the US and the UAE will focus on strengthening bilateral relationships in property, logistics and infrastructure, says its newly appointed president. "My goal at the business council is to help broaden and deepen the ties between the two countries," said Danny Sebright, who began his first day as the president of the US-UAE Business Council on Tuesday. "We will try to expand into other areas beyond defence, aerospace, financial and energy, where we are really strong."

UAE companies and investment funds have been buying up properties recently in the US, taking advantage of softening prices in the aftermath of the subprime crisis. The Abu Dhabi Investment Council, for instance, is looking at acquiring a majority stake in the iconic Chrysler building in New York City. Mr Sebright is a former Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) official and served as a foreign affairs adviser to Howard Dean during his presidential campaign. The council was formed by the US and UAE Chambers of Commerce in the aftermath of the uproar over DP World's attempts to buy the rights to operate several US ports. As its president, Mr Sebright will be a major advocate in the corridors of power in Washington DC for UAE companies trading with and investing in US companies.

And with a new administration taking office in November, Mr Sebright said he would have an "opportunity to advocate new trade policies". "There are important discussions going on around energy, sovereign wealth funds, defence and aerospace sales," he said, but would not comment on which candidate would offer a better set of policies to grow trade between the two countries. One of the new policy agendas would be to separate the UAE from the rest of the Gulf, he said.

"The UAE is lumped in people's talking points with the Gulf," Mr Sebright said. "One goal here, over the long term, is to distinguish the really exceptional relationship there is between the US and the UAE: how it's different, not necessarily better." In the short term, he said he would set up set up "key visits" for delegations of businessmen from the US to the UAE and vice versa, as well as develop more relationships with the five emirates outside of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, which he noted had booming economies as well.

While working at the DIA, Mr Sebright said he spent time in the Middle East, particularly Iraq, during the first Gulf War. Travelling with the former secretary of defence, Bill Cohen, he said he also met key officials in the UAE. Mr Sebright acted as a foreign affairs adviser to Howard Dean, a former governor who was a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the presidency in the 2004 election.

"With both my previous time in government and my time at the Cohen group, I have some very good, close contacts in the UAE from a business and government standpoint," he said. Mr Sebright will remain in his position as a counsellor to The Cohen Group, an international consulting firm headed by Mr Cohen. @Email:bhope@thenational.ae