The expansion of global trade is one of the world’s fastest routes to a sustainable economic recovery, and the signs of momentum are promising – the UN’s trade body predicts that the flow of goods will rebound to above pre-pandemic levels this year. This recovery suggests that global co-operation and the drive to develop international partnerships continues to deliver, despite some commentators arguing that globalisation was in retreat. The UAE has never wavered from its belief that global trade is a central engine of growth and vital to our shared economic interests – in fact that conviction is central to our global and outward-looking aspirations.
We aim to create an attractive destination for global trade, a hub for multinational corporations and an environment that empowers startups and entrepreneurs. None of this would be possible without the effort of our leadership over many decades, who have created such a globally competitive business centre. Our commitment to charting a new era of trade liberalisation and our understanding of the importance of developing economies for the digital age is absolute.
Even before the pandemic, there was evidence that isolationism, unilateralism and protectionism were on the rise globally. This was compounded by an invisible virus that exposed supply chain vulnerabilities and brought the international community’s dependence on trade and imports into question. While some speculated that globalisation had had its day, it also galvanised the belief among others, including our leadership, in the fundamental importance of trade. That approach has been validated – the UN data suggests that successfully navigating an increasingly complex and fast-changing macroeconomic environment will depend on more collaboration, not less.
Trade relationships are strategic, not transactional. Our future agreements will be increasingly focused on the wider exploration of common goals – how trade deals can open up broader economic potential; how global partners can act as hubs to new markets or power new freight or aerial routes; how digital trade can harmonise rules around data privacy and security; and how new relationships can be the foundation of joint partnerships in service of bigger global challenges such as climate change or economic development.
New trade relationships won’t just build on the early pandemic recovery, they promise to create sustainable regional prosperity and drive long under-leveraged economic partnerships. For instance, an acceleration of the effort to realise the potential of the “south-south” corridor could be a breakthrough in inter-regional trade – seeing increasing flows and volumes through the Africa-Middle East-Asia trade corridor. Such agreements hold the promise of greater alignment around policy solutions that balance social, economic and environmental sustainability – critical if we are to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
At the centre of this new trade activity will be knowledge-sharing between increasingly innovative economies focused on growth and co-operation. The priority here should be developing strategic sectors, underpinned by next-generation technologies, and attracting highly skilled global talent. While trade arrangements are still dominated by the physical movement of goods, the real value for parties to new agreements will be in creating a context where partners can combine expertise for mutual benefit, making themselves more attractive to like-minded nations, companies and a new-generation workforce.
The UAE wants to play a central role in global trade. As we build on our role as a competitive business centre and attractive economic hub, we can use our advantages to enable new partnerships that serve as a cornerstone for re-energised trade networks. Decades building a strong, stable and competitive economy with advanced logistics infrastructure will enable us to use trade as connective tissue for deeper integration.
Some four billion people – 50 per cent of the global population – live within an eight-hour flight of the UAE, while our ports are among the busiest in the region. With shipping and air routes that connect more than 400 cities across the world and plans in motion to see this rise to another 200 cities in the future, there are tremendous reasons to be optimistic about trade liberalisation.
Building a knowledge-based economy that welcomes investors, talent and ideas in line with the vision of our leaders is a statement of ongoing intent. Expo 2020 Dubai is, of course, an enormous opportunity for the world to come together and create new pathways to prosperity, but it is just the beginning in a new era of economic growth.
While many have written off globalisation or questioned its role in the future, these claims miss a key point: they fail to recognise that the nature of trade is dynamic, fluid and ever-changing. Countries around the world are looking at trade as a means to improve living standards, create jobs and give the global economy a much-needed shot in the arm.
Nations will look for counterparts who have similar strategic interests and can complement these ambitions. The UAE will seek out these partnerships, to connect people and economies worldwide. Indeed, I was recently in Indonesia where we discussed a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement that will further strengthen our two nations’ already strong economic relationship and lay the foundations for new opportunities. We are already collaborating on a number of important projects, including the $140 million agreement to develop the world's biggest floating solar power plant – reflecting a shared commitment to invest in projects that can power innovative, sustainable, knowledge-driven economies, and tackle our biggest challenges.
As trade returns to pre-pandemic levels, we cannot afford to overlook its social and economic dividends. These opportunities could expand investment or foster a new era of multilateral co-operation. It may improve living standards for millions of people, unlock the potential of new industries or create a platform for future growth. The UAE is ready to realise this potential by expanding the nation’s horizons and embracing its role as a global trade hub.