gn focus germany bilateral
UAE President His Highness Shaikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan with His Excellency Ernst Peter Fischer, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to the UAE. Image Credit: Supplied

Bilateral relations between the UAE and Germany, which began in 1972, were bolstered by a strategic partnership agreement signed by the two nations in 2004, and further strengthened with the Energy Partnership co-signed in 2017. While leaders of the two countries frequently visit each other, so do numerous other authorities, delegations, and special interest groups.

Buoyed by the results of this long-standing partnership and spurred by a pandemic-recovery momentum, Emirati-German relations are now intensifying across multiple fronts and gaining traction in new territories. If March is studied as a microcosm of this soaring interest, improving bilateral cooperation and exploring new opportunities seem to be doing two things at once: serving the private sector’s business interests and supporting both sets of national aspirations.

Marching ahead with gusto

In mid-March, the UAE-German Working Group on hydrogen and industrial fuels, a bilateral initiative to boost cooperation in this field, convened its first meeting in Dubai to discuss directions, priorities, and goals. Sharif Al Olama, Under Secretary of the Ministry of Energy and Infrastructure for Energy and Petroleum Affairs, led the UAE side, while Ernst Peter Fischer, Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to the UAE chaired the German side. The meeting announced two specialist technical groups in both nations — the first to develop hydrogen businesses and technologies and the second to develop policies and legislation in hydrogen — with the aim of maximising bilateral cooperation in clean energy, especially green hydrogen.

A few days later, German companies signed agreements with Emirati equivalents, with the intention of building up a hydrogen supply chain. These agreements were signed during a high-profile visit by German Economy Minister Robert Habeck to the Gulf states. Germany’s Hydrogenious and Uniper will partner with the UAE’s Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) and Japan’s Jera to undertake a joint demonstration project for hydrogen transport. The project aims to build a supply chain of hydrogen produced by renewable energy, from the UAE capital to Wilhelmshaven in Germany, based on Liquid Organic Hydrogen Carriers (LOHC) technology. Adnoc also signed agreements with German firms Aurubis, RWE, Steag and GEWEC to accelerate collaboration in clean hydrogen.

At the end of March, The German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture appointed the German-Emirati Joint Council for Industry and Commerce (AHK) to set up a Competence Centre for Food and Agriculture for the UAE, Oman, Qatar, Kuwait and Iraq. The centre will promote economic cooperation in the fields of food and agricultural commodities and serve as an information and advisory platform. It will also be the focal point of contact for sectors as diverse as agricultural engineering, fruit and vegetable, poultry and meat, baked goods and convenience foods.

Engaging national and local efforts

Also in March, the Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI) organised a forum for a delegation of German businesses. According to SCCI Chairman, Abdullah Sultan Al Owais, “Exceptional economic relations between Germany and UAE resulted in over 8.8 billion euros ($9.79 billion) of trade exchange in 2020.” More than 1,000 German companies operate in the UAE, with a total investment of about 6.7 billion euros, he said.

These new initiatives follow in the wake of numerous others. In November 2021, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy and the UAE’s Ministry of Energy formally agreed to establish a bilateral taskforce on hydrogen and synthetic fuels under the aegis of the Emirati-German Energy Partnership. In the same month, AHK played host and organiser to the inaugural edition of NMI Gulf Future Conference (GFC) of German Business, held in Dubai. The biannual event held under the patronage of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs will foster business and political dialogue.

By no means is collaboration and cooperation between the two friendly nations restricted to the realms of business. At the recently concluded Arabian Travel Market 2022 in Dubai, German representation was fulsome, with the umbrella holding of the German National Tourism Board (GNTB), the tourism boards of Baden-Baden, Dusseldorf and Frankfurt, tourism authority Visit Berlin, retail giant Breuninger, and the privately-run Hotel Palace Berlin.

Aspiring beyond the business ambit

Yamina Sofo, Director of Sales and Marketing GCC, at the German National Tourist Office (an affiliate of GNTB), said Germany is quickly regaining its position as an extremely popular destination for UAE travellers, with ‘pent-up demand’. In the month of December 2021, Germany recorded 54,493 overnight stays from GCC nationals, a record increase of 335 per cent, compared to the same period in 2020, she explained. “These figures show that Germany is a preferred destination for GCC nationals.”

As per the German Embassy, the UAE has three German international schools with almost 1,500 students, while the regional office of Germany’s Goethe Institute in Abu Dhabi and language-learning centre in Dubai have completed 15 years of service to the nation.

“For Germany’s foreign cultural and educational policy, the UAE is a focus country,” says Ambassador Ernst Peter Fischer. “Germany will be this year‘s guest of honour at the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair in May.”

On the eve of the 50th anniversary of establishing diplomatic ties with the UAE, it is easy to see how German ties to the nation will grow steadily in size and scale, as it spans the gamut from clean energy to culture.