The ties between the UAE and the UK have never been stronger. Our economies share many things — a strong, skilled workforce, world class infrastructure, an openness to ideas, creative energy, excellent educational institutions and a geographic time zone that allows us to work nearly 24 hours a day with East and West.
As the newly installed Lord Mayor, this is the second country out of the 27 markets that I will visit over the next 12 months. I look forward to following in the footsteps of my predecessors, many of whom have made countless business trips to the UAE in the past few years. When we also consider the numerous recent visits by our prime minister, chancellor, foreign secretary, defence secretary, trade secretary and international development secretary, it is evident that the UK attaches a great deal of importance to the UAE as an international partner.
My job is to not only represent and champion the City of London, our capital’s geographical financial district, but also represent the 2.2 million workers from our financial and professional services firms right across the country that together make the UK the world’s trusted cluster of choice. Joining me on this two-day visit to Dubai and Abu Dhabi are businesses from right across the City spectrum, including accountancy, asset management and investment management.
My busy programme will see me meet the officials at the Dubai International Financial Centre, Dubai Financial Services Authority, Abu Dhabi Global Market, the Central Bank, Department of Finance, sovereign wealth funds and an assortment of business leaders.
There is a huge amount to discuss — trade and investment opportunities, diversification plans, collaboration over English law, fintech, regulatory standards, Islamic Finance and more generally about our economic partnership with the UAE. Our trading relationship last year was worth nearly £15 billion (Dh59 billion) and this demonstrates the importance of the Gulf state to the UK as an economic partner, a land of commercial opportunities and a Middle Eastern friend.
We are currently the UAE’s 12th biggest trade partner. More than 120,000 British nationals work and live in the UAE, as well as being joined by over 1.5 million tourists each year. This is a reciprocal scenario and the UK is welcoming of thousands of UAE residents who come to the UK to work, study or visit.
UAE investment, in the form of tens of billions, has helped to improve our infrastructure, our life sciences and our education – not to mention through continued commercial investment in the skylines of London and beyond. Our Department for International Trade can help a variety of UAE companies set up in the UK from getting them registered to finding the best location and providing support with banking, immigration and legal services.
The UAE has also managed the challenging situation of low oil prices with caution and turned it into an opportunity by strengthening its non-oil sector and embarking on an economic diversification plan. While the UK economy is not so heavily dependent on oil for revenues, I will stress how the UK is a willing partner with the UAE in any way we can to help in these diversification efforts.
London has always been resilient and of course we are facing our own domestic issues in the UK at the moment with the uncertainty that Brexit has created. Clearly there are challenges to this for the city and no business likes the uncertainty that this has caused, but I am a firm believer that there are going to be wide and numerous opportunities – most notably forming and building on our strong partnerships in the Middle East and in particular in the UAE. The UK is certainly open for business.
We are world leaders in sectors like fintech, which contributed £6.6 billion to the economy last year and employs over 60,000 people, and in Islamic Finance, where we are the leading western centre, have over 20 banks that offer these services and were the first western nation to issue a sovereign sukuk.
We have always welcomed investment, commerce, trade, talent and ideas to our country — something that I see too in the UAE.
The City of London is a microcosm of a strong, fit-for-purpose ‘global community.’ For centuries, we have helped to cultivate close, positive and mutually-beneficial commercial relationships with our global partners, while building resilience and security for our national and global society.
My parting message for these few days in the UAE is that the UK will continue to be the UAE’s regional partner of choice. The city has so much to offer — not just the innovative, world leading firms found in the heart of our capital but in companies across the UK. Together we can work to diversify our economy, prepare our workforce with skills for tomorrow and prepare our economies for what they will face in the future.
Alderman Charles Bowman is Lord Mayor of the City of London.