The Trump administration’s apparent disregard for soft power and adversarial approach to free trade may paint an isolationist picture, but his country’s bilateral ties with the UAE have gone from strength to strength. For the past eight years, the UAE has been the largest buyer of US exports in the Middle East and North Africa. The Gulf nation even outdoes India, a country of 1.3 billion people, when it comes to purchasing US goods and services.
In fact, the US-UAE trading relationship, valued at $26 billion (Dh95.5 billion), grew by 100 per cent between 2010 and 2016. “Export growth from both countries is in line with the increasingly interconnectedness of our economies and the general trend is upwards,” Dao Le, Regional Senior Commercial Officer for the Gulf and Commercial Counsellor at the US Embassy Abu Dhabi, tells GN Focus.
“The metrics are impressive. The UAE is America’s third-largest trade surplus partner worldwide; top source of FDI from the Middle East; seventh-fastest-growing source of FDI in the US; and 16th-largest export market globally. This trading relationship supports more than 104,000 American jobs.”
The two nations have an old friendship. The US was the third country to establish formal diplomatic relations with the UAE in 1971, opening an embassy in Abu Dhabi a year later, while the UAE established its embassy in Washington, DC in 1974.
In May, His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, met US President Donald Trump at the White House to discuss issues of regional security and reaffirm the US-UAE security partnership. Defence is a massive part of the bilateral relationship, with the UAE only second to Saudi Arabia in terms of purchases. According to a Gulf News report, the UAE is one of the largest buyers of US defence hardware and services, spending more than $20 billion over the past decade, including on one of the world’s largest non-US F-16 fleets.
The UAE’s aerospace industry accounts for 30 per cent of American exports being brought into the country, at $6.5 billion. And what of UAE exports to the US? Bilal Sabouni, CEO of the American Business Council of Dubai (ABC) and the Northern Emirates, says the UAE’s rapidly diversifying economy has changed the nature of its exports to the US. “Specialised agriculture products are a growing part of exports from the Gulf, as well as minerals, precious stones, aluminium… by and large, it’s a natural increase due to the globalisation and the coming together of these two nations and people in trade and commerce.”
Sabouni is positive about the current US administration’s impact on bilateral relations between the US and the UAE. “This president was elected on the promise that he’s a broker of relationships, a negotiator. From a business perspective, we’re confident that he’s going to be good for relationships, specifically towards this region.
“The actual commercial ties inked on the [Saudi Arabia] trip… are great seeds in terms of future business opportunities.”
Ties that bind
The US Embassy in Abu Dhabi does its part in fostering commercial ties between the two nations. “The US Mission works closely with partners such as the American Chamber of Commerce Abu Dhabi, ABC and the US-UAE Business Council to achieve force multiplication,” says Le.
“In terms of trading platforms, the US Mission supports pavilions that showcase US firms at the UAE’s tier-one trade shows: the Abu Dhabi International Petroleum Exhibition and Conference, the International Defence Expo, the Dubai Air Show, Arab Health, Sustainability Week and Najah, to cite a few. Last month, Ambassador Barbara Leaf led a sizeable UAE delegation of investors to SelectUSA’s annual Investment Summit in Washington, DC to connect with economic development organisations from all 50 US states.”
Earlier this year, Majid Al Suwaidi, UAE Consul-General in New York, accompanied a delegation from the Dubai Investment Development Agency to Florida on a diplomatic mission to strengthen UAE-US business and cultural ties across the state, which, at 8.2 per cent, is the third-ranked state in terms of export to the UAE, after Washington (17.65 per cent) and Texas (10.85 per cent). In 2014, the UAE’s Gulftainer signed a 35-year deal to operate a container and cargo terminal at Port Canaveral on Florida’s east coast, an investment worth as much as $100 million in equipment and jobs.
“The UAE’s growing emphasis on sustainability, a digital economy, space and building a domestic health services industry are all examples of where major policy initiatives have important commercial consequences, and where the Embassy has forged collaborative relationships and implemented initiatives that helped ensure that US commercial interests remained an integral part of US policy in the UAE,” says Le.
With about 1,400-1,500 US companies operating in the UAE and an estimated 60,000-75,000 Americans living here, the US has an established platform for further growth.
ABC Dubai’s Annual Independence Day Celebration
What The US community comes out in force with an all-American barbecue, live entertainment, fireworks, games and prizes such as holiday packages, air tickets and more.
When July 7
American Chamber Abu Dhabi July 4 Celebration
What Viva Las Abu Dhabi! The capital’s Vegas-themed July 4 party invites business leaders and UAE and US officials to the InterContinental Abu Dhabi to see speakers such as Ethan Goldrich, Deputy Chief of Mission, US Embassy Abu Dhabi, and Shaikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, UAE Minister of Culture, Youth and Community Development.
When July 7