I’m always delighted to return to the UAE. As the UK Minister for the Middle East, I have been fortunate to visit the UAE on many occasions. Each time I am struck by the warmth and generosity of the Emirati culture and the common ties which bind us. Over 100,000 British nationals live, work and study in the UAE and thousands of Emiratis come to the UK as tourists and students or to do business. I was here the last time, just ahead of the UAE’s 40th anniversary of Union and it struck me then, as it does now, just how much this young and vibrant country has achieved in such a short period of time.
Yesterday, together with my counterpart and friend, Dr Anwar Mohammad Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, we held the eighth meeting of the UK-UAE Taskforce, in which we agreed to further the depth and breadth of the close relationship of our two countries.
The Taskforce was established in 2010 when Prime Minister David Cameron visited the UAE and has gone from strength to strength. At our last meeting in London, we signed an agreement on International Development Cooperation and yesterday we discussed how to improve our legal and consular cooperation.
We also spoke about how we can further our cooperation on defence and security issues, trade and investment relations, climate change, development cooperation and foreign policy.
The close links between our countries encompass the whole of society and stem from the very top. Our investment is growing in each other’s economies. British citizens have long been welcomed to the UAE with a warmth and spirit that have come to define the emirates.
They have in turn helped drive UAE prosperity and been involved in iconic projects such as the Burj Khalifa and Abu Dhabi Formula One. UK oil companies BP and Shell have worked with Abu Dhabi for more than 70 years.
Atkins, one of the world’s leading engineering and design consultancies, will design the North Wathba Urban Development to house 130,000 people. British companies are helping improve Abu Dhabi’s sewerage network and build new schools in Al Ain. I am delighted that we are on track to see bilateral trade reaching a value of £12 billion (Dh71.5 billion) by 2015.
Emiratis also have strong links to the UK and are contributing positively to UK society through projects such as the London Array — the world’s largest offshore wind farm — and the Emirates Skyline — a fantastic new cable car across the River Thames in London. The UAE-owned company, DP World, is now only two years away from completing the UK’s largest port, the London Gateway. And there is Manchester City of course. Our business links are certainly rich and diverse.
Dr Gargash and I took the opportunity to discuss what more the UK and UAE can do together on renewable energy, as we looked ahead to the UN Climate Change negotiations in November.
We are also cooperating on peaceful uses of nuclear energy. In 2008, Abu Dhabi’s Future Energy Company Masdar agreed to work with Britain to develop renewable energy and low-carbon technology.
I am delighted that a Masdar employee has agreed to a three-month secondment to the UK Department for Energy and Climate Change. Emirati officials will also join our Department for International Development next month as part of a learning exchange programme. I hope these exchanges will be the first of many between our governments.
But one of our greatest areas of cooperation remains foreign policy, where the challenges in Syria, Iran, Afghanistan and Yemen are at the forefront of our minds. Last year, the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and Shaikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Foreign Minister, made a joint visit to Afghanistan, where both countries have troops. In Libya, our pilots flew side by side.
The Emiratis share our concerns about Iran’s nuclear programme and we welcome their support for the P5+1 process of negotiation to help resolve the issue peacefully. Our joint work on the Friends of Yemen process is important. And in Syria, we are grateful for the Emiratis’ commitment and engagement, through the GCC and Arab League, to help bring about a peaceful political transition.
Our links come also through a shared sense of ambition. This feels all the more poignant on this particular visit, which comes at a time of reflection and great pride for both countries. In the UK, we have had a summer to remember:
We celebrated the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and hosted the London Olympic and Paralympic Games. In the UAE, you have just welcomed your Paralympic medal winners home and approach the conclusion of a memorable anniversary, celebrating an amazing 40 years of progress and development as a nation.
Just like my fellow Britons, you will seek opportunities and face challenges in the years to come. As you look to cement your place in the region and the world and to meet the aspirations of your people, we wish you every success and we offer you our hands in friendship. We share a common history, but our common future is even more important.
Alistair Burt is Minister for Middle East and North Africa, British Foreign Office.