US looks to boost trade and investment ties with UAE

Washington is keen on promoting clean technology and sectors vital to the future economy, official says

The UAE is the single-largest export market for the US in the Mena region. Wam
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The US wants to increase trade with the UAE and attract more investment from the Emirates.

Clean technology and sectors vital to the future economy are areas in which the US is particularly interested in attracting foreign direct investment to, Marisa Lago, US Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade, told The National.

Coming out of the coronavirus pandemic, there is renewed awareness about the importance of the pharmaceutical industry, a prime sector for foreign investment, she said.

“What we see in the UAE is tremendously savvy investors and we also see different investors having expertise in different areas,” said Ms Lago, who took office in December last year.

“The beauty of the US economy is the breadth of it. We are not a one- or two-pole economy, so there are opportunities across sectors.”

As the world's largest economy, the US has been among the preferred investment destinations for UAE investors, who over the years, have invested in everything from technology to property and private equity to financial markets.

In 2020, investors from the Emirates accounted for about $45 billion of FDI flows to the US.

“We always try to turn … or measure investments in terms of jobs and that is over 17,000 US jobs coming from the UAE [investments],” she said.

Ms Lago, who is on her first foreign trip since her appointment, said she expects a “large delegation of investors” from the UAE and the broader Mena region to join global peers at the annual SelectUSA conference in Washington.

Global FDI surged 77 per cent a year to about $1.65 trillion in 2021, exceeding pre-pandemic levels, while the outlook before the Ukraine-Russia conflict for flows this year was positive, according to the UN Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad).

FDI flows into the US, the world's largest recipient of investment last year, more than doubled to $323bn as cross-border mergers and acquisitions surged, according to the UN agency.

Ms Lago, who is leading US government efforts to help American businesses to enter into international markets and expand, said there is enormous potential to further boost US-UAE trade ties.

“We are focused on the depth of the relationship and how we can deepen it,” Ms Lago said. “We have a robust trading relationship that exists in both directions.”

The UAE, the second-biggest Arab economy, is the single-largest export market for the US in the Mena region, with more than 1,500 US companies operating in the country.

It is the 20th-largest export market for the US, with $16.7bn worth of exports last year. The US imported $5.6bn of goods from the UAE in 2021. Total trade between the two countries hit $22.4bn last year.

“If we look at exports from the US to UAE, [they cover] everything from computers to electronics and chemicals, which reflects the diversity of the US economy,” she said.

Ms Lago is part of a US Commerce Department delegation that includes 140 American companies, including Boeing, Visa, PepsiCo, Oracle, ExxonMobil and Pfizer.

The companies that are looking to expand exports and seeking new partnerships with companies in the UAE and the broader Mena region.

Trade Winds 2022 is the first trade event that the department is holding after the pandemic, “so I think it is quite significant that we are coming to the UAE”, she said.

US companies are also expected to visit Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Morocco, Qatar and Saudi Arabia under the auspices of the trade show, which will be held for the first time in the Mena region.

“What we hope to see out of this is more opportunities for US firms to increase their exports,” she said.

In 2021, the volume of US-GCC trade climbed to $61.6bn, up from $48.8bn in 2020, but remained below the pre-pandemic level of $70.5bn that was recorded in 2019.

Ms Lago is also meeting with senior UAE government officials, which is a “reflection of the fact that both governments are focused on the economy of the future”, she said.

“We know that we have significant alignment in focusing on clean technology and digital economy, she said.

What we see in the UAE is tremendously savvy investors and we also see different investors having expertise in different areas
Marisa Lago, US Under Secretary of Commerce for International Trade

Ms Lago declined to comment on how Russia’s military offensive in Ukraine will affect the global economy and world trade. She could only say “we are in the midst of it”, the impact is still “unfolding” and the facts on the ground “may be changing” as the crisis continues to unfold.

On Saturday, the International Monetary Fund said the Russia-Ukraine conflict and western sanctions imposed on Moscow — in retaliation for its military offensive — will have a “severe impact” on the global economy.

Oil prices have rallied to 14-year highs this week, with international benchmark Brent nearly touching $140 a barrel in early trading on Monday.

The conflict has already driven up commodity prices and exacerbated inflationary pressures globally.

Updated: March 09, 2022, 5:07 AM