The UAE and the UK: Partners for the road ahead

Five decades of friendship underpin a prosperous and forward-looking relationship

Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, with Britain’s Foreign Secretary James Cleverly in London earlier this month. The two countries recently held their first UK/UAE Strategic Dialogue. Wam
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The UK and the UAE’s diplomatic relations stretch back over 51 years, to the founding of the Emirates. The rapid pace of development has transformed our two countries in ways that would have seemed unimaginable five decades ago, but the ties between the UK and the UAE have also evolved and deepened.

Today, the UAE and the UK enjoy a profound and mutually beneficial partnership. The UAE is the UK’s largest trading partner in the Middle East and third-largest trading partner outside Europe after China and the US. More than 100,000 British citizens live and work in the UAE alongside citizens of more than 200 nationalities that call the country their home. A further 1.5 million British nationals visit the UAE each year.

This is a relationship that draws upon collective history and firmly established people-to-people relations, rooted in economic, diplomatic, cultural and defence co-operation. In the coming years, it is natural that our existing partnership will deepen. The UAE-UK Strategic Dialogue, which took place recently in London – led by Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed and British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly – epitomises the promise that our future together holds.

The Dialogue supports the implementation of our Partnership for the Future, which serves as a roadmap to drive bilateral co-operation and is a tangible expression of the shared commitment to deepening engagement and exploring new opportunities to serve our peoples. The Dialogue also provides a platform for our nations to discuss pressing issues, share best practices and align our visions for a more sustainable tomorrow.

One key matter discussed at the Strategic Dialogue was the vibrant UK-UAE economic partnership, which continues to flourish. The UAE's rapid economic growth in recent decades has attracted significant British investment and, as the UAE’s economy has prospered, has led to ever-increasing investment from the Emirates into the UK. Bilateral trade reached just under £22 billion ($27.35 billion) in 2022, an increase of 63 per cent compared with the year before.

Our two countries have seen notable success through the Sovereign Investment Partnership signed in 2021, which has deepened trade and investment between the UAE and UK in areas of mutual benefit.

The UAE's strategic location as a regional hub between Africa, Asia and the Middle East, coupled with its dynamic business environment, makes it a gateway for innovation and a multicultural crossroads that attracts the world’s top talent. In turn, the country has become an incubator of possibility and opportunity for our bilateral partnership to flourish.

This year, our two countries will hold the 8th session of the UAE-UK Joint Economic Committee, and we share optimism for the fourth round of UK-GCC Free Trade Agreement talks, which will be hosted by Britain later this year. The UAE and UK will continue to build on the excellent bilateral trade and investment relationship and further our simultaneous bilateral discussions in the form of annexes or side agreements to the GCC FTA as we explore ways to agree on UAE-UK specific matters.

Recognising that our bilateral partnership is essential in combatting economic challenges of global scale, the UAE and UK have also reiterated their full commitment towards solidifying co-operation in the field of illicit finance under the umbrella of the UAE-UK Partnership to Tackle Illicit Financial Flows signed in September 2021.

Both the UK and the UAE have long been recognised as centres of innovation and technological progress. The UK has a rich history of pioneering inventions, while the Emirates has emerged as a global leader in wide-ranging areas such as clean tech, artificial intelligence and space exploration. This synergy in innovation makes our two nations natural allies, capable of driving technological progress, fostering research and development, and nurturing knowledge-based economic growth. Our future-oriented relationship offers potential to truly institutionalise intellectual capital in the innovation, science and tech spaces.

In multilateral fora, the UAE and the UK are also actively collaborating to address the most pressing security challenges regionally and internationally

Crafting a sustainable path ahead for our nations will be the focus Cop28, which is due to be hosted by the UAE later in November. Climate change is an existential issue unlike any we have faced as a global community, and effective partnerships like the one that exists between the UAE and UK are essential in overcoming this challenge.

In this critical period, we must deliver a robust and unified response to the Global Stocktake to close the ambition gaps in mitigation, adaptation, loss and damage, and climate finance in order to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, including keeping the goal of 1.5°C within reach. We must also halt and reverse global forest and biodiversity loss.

The UAE is already one of the largest investors in the UK's net-zero transition, reflecting the depth of our economic partnership. For example, the Abu Dhabi-owned renewables developer Masdar announced an investment of £1 billion into British battery storage technology in March. By further deepening our collaboration in clean energy and sustainability, both of our countries stand to benefit from more affordable and secure energy supplies, shared expertise, technological advancements, and job creation.

This partnership is not only contributing to mutual economic growth but has real potential to combat climate change and promote a greener and more resilient future in other countries.

In multilateral fora, the UAE and the UK are also actively collaborating to address the most pressing security challenges regionally and internationally, including by advancing the Women, Peace and Security agenda, promoting tolerance and counterextremism, and addressing the impacts of climate change on international peace and security, as well as conflict prevention and peaceful solutions, peacebuilding and sustaining peace, and addressing intolerance, hate speech, discrimination and all forms of extremism.

At the UN Security Council, the UAE and UK have consistently demonstrated a joint commitment to mobilise international action to address the needs of the most vulnerable, including through the UAE’s leadership on recent Security Council resolutions on Afghanistan. We will remain steadfast in supporting diplomatic initiatives and channels aimed at ending regional and global conflict, as our two countries have never lost sight of the importance of dialogue and building bridges with others.

The extensive partnership between the UK and the UAE stands as a testament to the power of international collaboration. This alliance has brought significant benefits to both nations, fostering economic growth, enhancing our global standing, and reinforcing our collective security, including through the shared Defence and Security Partnership and co-operation to tackle illicit finance.

As the world becomes increasingly interconnected, partnerships such as the one enjoyed by our two nations demonstrate the value of co-operation in leveraging opportunities for generations to come. By expanding this partnership, the UK and the UAE can continue to build a future of prosperity, peace and shared success.

Published: May 22, 2023, 12:52 PM
Updated: May 23, 2023, 11:56 PM