Stock Abu Dhabi skyline
A variety of factors influenced the UAE's move up the global soft power rankings from Brand Finance. Topping the list was its firm handling of the COVID-19 crisis. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Dubai: The UAE’s response to the COVID-19 crisis – both internally and to external audience – has lifted the country’s ‘soft power’ status to 15th globally from the 17th spot a year ago in the latest rankings issued by the consultancy Brand Finance.

These and the constant spotlight generated by the Expo 2020 consolidated the UAE’s hold in the Middle East, with Israel and Saudi Arabia ranked 23rd and 24th in the world on soft power.

The US regained its position as the world’s biggest soft power, as it managed to get a grip on COVID-19. Last year’s top ranked Germany slipped to third, behind the US and the UK. (A London-based consultancy, Brand Finance also brings out annual rankings on the world's biggest corporate brands.)

Domestically, the UAE took on the pandemic challenge, with these efforts paying off in capping the spread at various points, while being one of the first to re-open the economy to limit the damage cause by the coronavirus.

On the external front, the sending off vaccines and protective equipment to other countries – with Emirates airline playing a pivotal role – was another boost to the UAE’s soft power. (This power relates to the influence nations and governments wield based on multiple factors other than the strictly economic or military status.)

“A key metric where the UAE ranks within the (global) Top 10 is ‘influence’,” according to the Brand Finance report. “The signing and implementation of the Abraham Accords (with Israel) is likely to be the key reason behind the nation’s improvement here as well as in the ‘international relations’ pillar, where it claims 11th spot. The UAE has moved up on the ‘good relations with other countries’ statement to 23rd and on ‘helpful to countries in need’ it.”

UAE is all business
The UAE performed best on the ‘business and trade’ pillar, breaking into the global Top 10. The nation performed best on the ‘easy to do business in and with’ metric, where it is ranked fourth, followed by ‘strong and stable economy’ where it ranks eighth.

“The UAE is emerging from the pandemic strong, with its trade and investment prowess underscored by the success of the EXPO 2020,” the Brand Finance report states.

The race for talent

Away from the COVID-19 management, the UAE’s biggest gains last year was in creating the ground conditions for genuine talent to emerge. Brand Finance’s report notes: “The UAE’s fastest improvement this year has been recorded in the education and science pillar. Its focus on high-tech economy and specialised education as well as the bold venture into space exploration with the Emirates Mars Mission have no doubt influenced perceptions of the UAE’s capabilities in this field.”

Plus, there is the casting of the net far and wide to get global talent consider the UAE as the place to live and work. Some of the most far-reaching reforms were brought in on the residency visa requirements, while the launch of ‘Nafis’ project targets heavier participation by UAE Nationals in the private sector.

“Aligning the working week with the majority of the world to Monday-Friday is likely to solidify positive perceptions of the UAE as a business-friendly nation in the next ‘Global Soft Power Index’ survey,” the report adds. (The announcement by the UAE that it would introduce a 9 per cent corporate tax from next year is a new factor that will be influential.)

The Big 4
The US "bounced back" to reclaim the top spot with a score of 70.7 out of 100, followed by the UK (64.9), Germany (64.6) and China (64.2). Their rankings reflect the key roles they played in "lifting the world out of the health crisis through the development of vaccines".

The US score shot up from 55.9 in 2021 to 70.7 in 2022 – the highest score ever recorded in the Index.