Containers at the Port of Southampton, jointly operated by DP World and Associated British Ports Holdings Plc. The UAE is the UK’s largest export market in the Middle East. Image Credit: Bloomberg

Today marks an important step in the longstanding partnership between the UK and the UAE, with the inauguration of the UK-UAE CEO Forum in Abu Dhabi. The CEO Forum is made up of top business leaders from the UK and the UAE, and will form part of the drive to boost trade and commercial ties between our two countries.

In October 2009, the governments of the UAE and the UK set the ambitious target of increasing trade between the countries to £12 billion (Dh69.6 billion) by 2015, an increase of 60 per cent. While trade between our countries was established and growing, the new target signalled a step-change in the commitment from the top down and showed that our trade relationship had the potential to achieve so much more.

In July last year, the UK/UAE task force was established as part of the UK government's Gulf Initiative to elevate and strengthen its relationship with all its Gulf partners. The task force, headed by the Foreign Ministers of both countries, William Hague and Shaikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, is intended to further strengthen ties between the two countries, including a core focus on economic and commercial ties.

Through the task force, the UK and UAE have agreed to deepen cooperation on the full range of bilateral issues including trade and investment, defence and security, energy and climate change, culture and education, health and sport, international development, foreign policy, and consular relations.

On trade and investment, the task force has agreed concrete steps towards realising the 2015 target, including through the work of the CEO Forum.


The CEO Forum is one of a number of initiatives aimed at driving bilateral trade forward. We, as joint chairmen of the CEO Forum, have been tasked with leading a group of our countries' top CEOs from sectors of business ranging from banking and infrastructure to energy and healthcare. It is an honour for us to serve as joint chairmen, and we have high expectations that the level of experience around the table and the networking opportunity provided by the forum will act as multipliers to propel the bilateral trade agenda forward.

Sultan Bin Saeed Al Mansouri, UAE Minister of Economy, and Lord Stephen Green, UK Minister of Trade and Investment, are opening the CEO Forum today. Lord Green is visiting the UAE to strengthen bilateral ties between our two great nations, continuing the high level of dialogue which has taken place between senior ministers and government leaders following the establishment of the UK/UAE Taskforce.

The UK and the UAE have long enjoyed a special relationship which goes back for decades and is anchored on people to people ties at every level, from close personal relationships between the British and Emirati royal families, to business ties going back 70 years when Shell and BP first came out to support Abu Dhabi's discovery of oil.

There is now a mass of connections between individuals, civil society, businesses, pressure groups, students and charitable organisations in our two countries. These connections are robust due to longstanding shared values and have made an ideal foundation for a thriving commercial and trade relationship.

Business-wise, cooperation between UK and UAE has gone from strength to strength. The UAE is the UK's largest export market in the Middle East. British contractors and consultants have been involved in some of the most iconic infrastructure projects in the UAE, including the Burj Al Arab, the Dubai Metro, the YAS Marina Circuit, Ferrari World, the Zayed National Museum, and Masdar City.

Trade and investment is a two-way street, and the UAE has contributed greatly to the UK in many ways. DP World's £1.5 billion London Gateway project, Abu Dhabi's investment in Manchester City football club, and Masdar's stake in the London Array offshore wind farm are three of the most high profile examples, but others include the Excel exhibition centre and Etihad Airways' Manchester contact centre. These projects create lasting relationships between our two countries on many levels.

These existing ties continue to strengthen, but we must look to the future, to creating new ties, to finding innovative opportunities to work together towards common goals. Our governments are doing their part, but they rightly recognise that in order to reach the ambitious trade targets they have set, businesses and business leaders can be the real catalysts for change and the engine for growth.

While the CEO Forum has the explicit support of both the UAE and UK governments, the initiative itself is and will continue to be led by the private sector. Business leaders have an integral role to play in the mutual growth of our economies, and there is an enthusiastic sense of collaboration and partnership within the CEO Forum that is palpable.

The challenge

We see the CEO Forum contributing to the trade agenda in a number of ways.

In our opinion the CEO Forum is a starting point for UAE and UK business to work more closely together, to deliver tangible commercial agreements which turn into action, and then spur on new ideas from other businesses in a virtuous circle. We will be looking for ways in which we can work to our mutual benefit in the areas of education, technology transfer and greater exchanges of personnel between British and Emirati companies.

We will be driving forward the investment agenda trying to broaden the scope of both Emirati investment in the UK and British investment in the UAE. We will also be looking at opportunities for British and Emirati firms to work together in third markets where we have shared interests and complementary capabilities. Libya is an obvious example.

We will champion an entrepreneurial spirit and get involved in matching needs to capacity in projects within our countries. If we can do all this we will not only achieve our challenging trade targets but we will revitalise the bilateral commercial relationship and give it the depth and substance it needs for the future.

Nasser Ahmad Al Suwaidi is the Chairman of the Department of Economic Development, Abu Dhabi, Co-Chair of the UK-UAE CEO Forum. Samir Brikho, Chief Executive of AMEC plc, UK and Co-Chair of the UK-UAE CEO Forum.