We might be 12,000 kilometres apart but the United Arab Emirates and Brazil have more in common than you might think.
Mention Brazil to any Emirati and there is one response you can always count on: football, Pele, Ronaldo – in short, the beautiful game. Emiratis love their football and there are many Brazilian footballers in our own Arabian Gulf League.
We very much admire the world-renowned champion Brazilian national team and you can bet that we will turn out in our thousands to watch them play when they visit Abu Dhabi next month for a friendly match against South Korea.
Sport is a great cross-cultural bridge that spans the 12,000km separating our countries, which is why it is on the list of memoranda of understanding signed in Abu Dhabi this week between Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, and Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro. However, it is by no means the only link between our two nations, as the high-level nature of this week's delegation shows.
Brazil has always had a special place in the hearts of Emiratis. It was one of the first nations to recognise the UAE upon its formation in 1971. The values of tolerance, acceptance, interfaith engagement and the promotion of religious freedom further unite our two nations.
This year, we mark 45 years of diplomatic relations between our two countries. It is therefore fitting that we were able to host Mr Bolsonaro during his first visit to the Arab world.
Investment, trade and tourism have traditionally been the mainstays of our bilateral relationship, with two-way trade worth more than $2.5 billion, and more than 60,000 visits by Brazilian nationals to the UAE each year. The UAE also hosts the largest community of Brazilians in the Gulf, with some 10,000 calling the Emirates home.
Both nations play an important role as a gateway to their wider regions; for Brazil, the UAE serves as the entry point to the Gulf for its agricultural products. Food security is a key issue for the UAE and we see Brazil as a solid, reliable partner.
Likewise, Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paulo are the UAE’s gateway to South America, with sizeable levels of investment – estimated at $1 trillion USD – across industries such as renewable energy, medicine, defence and infrastructure, with diversified agriculture and livestock investments also on the horizon. It was promising to see nearly 200 business people attend the recent Brazil-UAE Business Forum in Abu Dhabi to exchange contacts, expertise and ideas.
Doing business will always be important but relations between our countries are now deeper than this and ready to move to the next level. That is why our leaders have agreed to elevate bilateral relations to that of a strategic partnership, which includes peace and security as well as economics, energy, tourism, culture and, of course, sport.
Safeguarding regional and international security through multilateral partnerships is very important to the UAE. This week, both leaders reiterated their commitment to fighting transnational crime and terrorism and establishing military attache offices in both our respective nations’ capitals, in an important step forward in deepening joint security co-operation.
We want to seize the opportunity provided by this firming of ties to further leverage our relationship by pushing into fields such as the environment, science and technology, and even artificial intelligence. Building a knowledge-based economy and adopting modern technologies are an essential part of the UAE’s future government vision and Brazil can play a key role in this advancement.
Earlier this month, the UAE announced that recruitment has begun for the world’s very first university dedicated to artificial intelligence: the Mohamed bin Zayed University of Artificial Intelligence, or MBZUAI, which will open for students from around the world in September 2020.
I very much hope to see students from Brazil making up part of this multinational cadre of young talent to further reinforce the exchange of ideas between our countries.
It is our hope that the UAE’s relationship with Brazil continues to grow in coming years. As Brazil is our gateway to South America, so too do our doors remain open to Brazilians, whose contributions to economic development and commitment to cultural exchange make our nation’s fabric stronger.
Hafsa Al Ulama is the UAE's ambassador to Brazil