Abu Dhabi: The UAE is ranked first on the Australian list of trade partners in the Middle East and North Africa (Mena) region, and the 14th largest trade partner worldwide to Australian economy, Pablo Kang, Australian ambassador to the UAE told the Gulf News in an interview.
“Australian-UAE trade is not as diversified as it should be. Our main exports to UAE are alumina which is used to produce aluminium, lamb, Chevrolet and Camry vehicles as well as other products. Our main imports are petrol,” Kang pointed out.
“Our bilateral ties have witnessed remarkable progress and steady growth in the recent years, thanks to the officials visits from both countries. We have diplomatic ties with the UAE since 1999,” said Kang.
The ambassador said that the most remarkable achievements were in the field of nuclear and aviation which represent the strength of relation at the government and private sector levels.
Kang remarked that the major Australian exports last year included passenger motor vehicles, lamb, wheat and barley, and alumina which is used for the production of aluminium in the UAE while Australia’s imports from the UAE are mainly petroleum.
“Our trade exchange is estimated at 5-6 billion Australian dollars yearly which includes petrol, lamb, vehicles, alumina, and other items,” said Kang.
The ambassador said that 10 per cent of Australia’s power demand is generated from renewable energy.
“We seek to increase the contribution of renewable energy from current 10 per cent to 20 per cent by 2020 and to decrease carbon emissions by 80 per cent by 2050,” Kang reiterated.
He added: “Australia requires about 800 billion Australian dollars in the coming 10 years for infrastructure projects to keep pace with the growth in its population and its economy. We are now focusing on sovereign funds such as Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA)’s which already owns 20 per cent of Brisbane Seaport, which is a several billion Australian dollar investment as Australia is a stable country with low risk and has “medium return investments” due to the country’s political and economic stability.”
The ambassador pointed out that ADIA has investments in property and infrastructure in Australia.
“There are good opportunities in Australia for sovereign wealth funds because Australia has outperformed other countries recently. Australia is a good and safe haven for investments and ventures because of its financial stability which has a AAA credit rating,” he remarked.
Kang stressed that Australia has very good opportunities in renewable energy. Sultan Al Jaber, Masdar CEO, was in April 2013 in Australia.
“We are both willing to have joint ventures in this regard as the South Pacific has huge potentials in terms of onshore wind and solar energy. We are also seeking technology cooperation in the field of renewable energy with Masdar,” he highlighted.
With regard to nuclear cooperation, both countries had in August 2012 signed a 15 year agreement for nuclear cooperation according to which Australia will provide the UAE with uranium fuel for its four nuclear plants which will cost Dh73.4 billion ($20 billion)
“Australia, the biggest producer of uranium (fuel) as the country holds about 40 per cent of the world’s known uranium reserves, will provide the UAE with uranium fuel once nuclear plants are in operation by 2017,” said the ambassador.
Flights and tourism
The UAE-Australian ties cover other areas such as health, culture, education and aviation. Emirates Airlines operates 70 flights weekly to Australia, and is about to launch another direct flight to Adelaide state for four times a week. Meanwhile Etihad Airways operates 21 flights weekly to Australia. Virgin Australia operates three flights from Sidney to Abu Dhabi weekly.
The ambassador said that Qantas started flying to London via Dubai instead of Singapore after the Australian airline announced a partnership with Emirates last year.
“That is an agreement had become effective on April 1, 2013,” added Kang.
Many Australians visit the UAE for tourism or work, while a number of Emiratis visit Australia for tourism or study.
“More than 50,000 UAE residents had visited Australia last year and more than 140,000 Australians had also visited the UAE for the same period. Since Qantas started its operations via Dubai few months ago, a lot of traffic started to come to Dubai International Airport whereby 126 flights a week between both countries; that is, one flight per 18 minutes,” said the ambassador.
Kang added: “More than 30 per cent of passengers who stop over in the UAE are from Australia. Few months ago, we had inaugurated a five-year alliance between Emirates and Qantas airlines. The alliance includes operating daily Qantas flights from Sidney and Melbourne to Dubai, provides Qantas and Emirates customers with increased access to a number of existing frequencies and destinations under a single airline code and improves connectivity and scheduling. It also includes switching Qantas Singapore hub to Dubai.
He added that Etihad Airways operates weekly services between Abu Dhabi and Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane while Emirates Airlines operates weekly services between Dubai and Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide.
On the other hand, Virgin Australia is operating 3 weekly services between Sydney and Abu Dhabi, while Qantas is operating 7 weekly services from both Sydney and Melbourne to Dubai and London starting from March 31, 2013.
The ambassador assured that about 20 per cent of UAE students who are studying abroad are studying in Australia. There are about 1000 UAE students who are seeking higher education. “We have the oldest private university in the UAE, Wollongong University in Dubai which has turned out more than 10,000 students so far since establishment in Dubai 20 years ago. We have 2 Australian schools in Sharjah. We have an intention to establish two Australian schools in Dubai and Abu Dhabi,” he clarified.
The UAE National Committee to Combat Human Trafficking signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship of Australia last June to share experiences and raise awareness about the menace of human trafficking and people smuggling.
The MoU aimed to enhance efforts to support research and studies on measures to contain such crimes, said the ambassador.
“We are in good dialogue with the UAE. Human trafficking is a global problem and the UAE is dealing with it,” he said.
With regard to visa, as per Australian laws, everyone intending to travel to Australia has to get a visa.
“The issue of Australian visa is universal as everyone has to get an Australian visa to travel to our country. In other words, it is not just the government which has its say in this regard. We have our parliament too. We had made the process easier for UAE citizens by applying online and they get their visas in about 8 hours instead of 4-8 days. This electronic application saves their time and effort. With this they get an electronic visa which is not stamped on their passports but it is already in the system,” said Kang.