Florida's ties to the UAE deepen across the Sunshine State

Business-minded state has increasingly close relationship to Dubai and Abu Dhabi

Miami downtown aerial view
Powered by automated translation

The sunny US state of Florida, famed for attracting retirees, its oddball news stories and for being the home of polarising politicians including Donald Trump, is forging ever closer business ties to the UAE.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in Miami, the Latino-majority, melting-pot city where nearly six in 10 people were born overseas.

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez has helped finalise a sister-city relationship with Dubai that highlights growing ties between the UAE and Florida, nicknamed the Sunshine State.

“We certainly have a wonderful relationship with the city of Dubai, with the emirate of Dubai and also with the emirate of Abu Dhabi,” Mr Suarez told The National earlier this year.

“And so it’s just a wonderful opportunity to grow a closer relationship between our country and the Emirates, which I think are playing an increasing role … on world affairs.”

Miami, the second-largest city in Florida after Jacksonville, acts as a gateway to south Florida and the South American market.

Florida plays an outsize role in US politics, as it is home not only to Mr Trump but also to Governor Ron DeSantis, who is running against the former president for the Republican Party nomination for 2024.

Mr DeSantis is trailing a distant second in polls dominated by Mr Trump, whose popularity among Republicans has not, at least for now, been dented by either of the criminal indictments he faces. Mr Trump will appear in a Miami court on Tuesday.

Expanding trade ties

The UAE has become Florida's largest trading partner in the Middle East. In 2021, the state's exports to the UAE exceeded $1 billion.

According to Danny Sebright, president of the US-UAE Business Council, overall exports from all 50 states to the Emirates surpassed $20.8 billion last year.

“Florida plays a vital role in this success narrative,” Mr Sebright told The National.

Key export categories from Florida to the UAE include computer and electronic products ($620 million), transport equipment ($250 million) and primary metal manufacturers ($200 million).

Moreover, more than 20 Emirati companies have established a presence in Florida, creating more than 1,000 jobs and contributing to the state's economic growth.

Florida's imports from the UAE were worth $210 million in 2022, including $69 million in chemicals and $46 million in petroleum products.

In 2014, Port Canaveral signed a 35-year agreement with Gulftainer, a company based in Sharjah, to operate its container and multipurpose cargo terminal.

Last July, Damac, a Dubai-based developer, purchased nearly a hectare of oceanfront land in Miami's Surfside suburb for $120 million, with plans to develop a luxury condo project under the Cavalli brand. The site was where a condo building collapsed in 2021, killing 98 people.

Trade is expected to grow between Florida and Dubai in the coming years, fuelled by increased connectivity and the mutual commitment of both governments.

In July 2021, Emirates launched direct flights between Miami and Dubai, with five weekly flights currently operating.

About 45 kilometres north of Miami is Fort Lauderdale. The city's mayor, Dean Trantalis, who recently visited Dubai, said Fort Lauderdale is an attractive option for a growing number of Emiratis interested in investing in the US, particularly in real estate and financial services.

“Fort Lauderdale, being a coastal city with a thriving tourism industry, attracts millions of visitors from around the world,” he told The National.

“We boast the country's third-largest passenger port and an important cargo port.”

The UAE ranks as the 10th largest foreign investor in Florida, with investments exceeding $500 million across sectors including commercial real estate, tourism and technology, according to Mayor Wayne Messam of Miramar, near Miami.

He pointed to the $2 billion One Thousand Museum tower in Miami, designed by Zaha Hadid Architects and developed by Louis Birdman of the UAE.

“The UAE's ambitious economic diversification plans, such as its ... focus on advanced technology and renewable energy, align well with Florida's strengths in aviation and aerospace, health care and innovation,” Mr Messam told The National.

Updated: June 15, 2023, 4:59 PM