MEETING OF MINDS: General Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, tours Tokai University with Foreign Minister Shaikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Image Credit: Supplied

Japan and the UAE have a long-standing and comprehensive bilateral partnership, with the ties being continually strengthened by regular visits of dignitaries from both the countries. The high point of relations in recent years came in February, when General Shaikh Mohammad Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, visited Japan.

“General Shaikh Mohammad’s official visit to Japan has strengthened the strategic partnership between the two countries,” says Yoshihiko Kamo, Japanese Ambassador to the UAE. “The leaders of both countries have expressed their determination to promote and develop bilateral cooperation in various domains.”

General Shaikh Mohammad toured Tokai University, one of Japan’s leading institutions, where he attended demonstrations of Japanese martial arts, including judo and kendo, says the ambassador. Four Emirati students, who were attending martial arts training at the university as part of an agreement with the UAE Judo Association, also participated. “Shaikh Mohammad also saw a model of the Tokai Challenger, a solar-powered car developed by a team of Tokai University students, including students from the UAE’s Petroleum Institute,” says Kamo.

This month, a high-level UAE delegation participated in the eighth ministerial meeting of the Non-Proliferation and Disarmament Initiative (NPDI) in Hiroshima. The delegation was led by Dr Sultan Ahmad Al Jaber, UAE Minister of State, with the participation of Hamad Al Kaabi, UAE Permanent Representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency.

During the meeting ministers and senior officials discussed the progress of the NPDI initiative and highlighted the important contributions and working papers made in advance of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, which began on Monday in New York and runs until May 9. They also discussed pressing international cases of non-proliferation, including the ongoing nuclear programmes in North Korea and Iran, WAM reported.

Trade between both countries has soared steadily in the past few years. Crude oil is the key pillar here. The UAE is the second-largest supplier of crude oil to Japan, providing 21.87 per cent of total crude oil imports. “The trade balance currently favours the UAE, thanks to oil and natural gas exports, but Japan’s exports to the UAE are also gaining traction. While Japan imported $44 billion (Dh147 billion) worth of crude oil and gas from the UAE, Japan’s exports to the UAE accounted for $9 billion in 2012,” says the ambassador.

According to the Japan External Trade Organisation (Jetro), the value of Japan’s crude oil imports from the UAE rose 1.05 per cent to $33.44 billion in 2012, compared to $33.09 billion in 2011.

Japan’s trade with the UAE has been healthy in recent years, barring a short period during the global financial crisis, the earthquake and tsunami. Motor vehicles have been Japan’s dominant export commodity to the UAE, accounting for more than 50 per cent. Other major exports are general and electrical machinery; IT and communication equipment; iron and steel products; and materials, rubber, plastic and textile products. Along with oil and gas, Japan imports aluminium, precious metals, diamonds, scrap metals, seafood and textile products from the UAE.

Kamo sees scope for further collaboration in education and tourism. “The UAE’s interest in the Japanese language, culture and higher education is growing. Seventeen Emirati children are currently studying at the Japanese school in Abu Dhabi and 17 Emirati students are pursuing programmes at Tokai University. Fifteen higher education institutes from Japan attended the Najah careers exhibition in Abu Dhabi to acquaint students in the UAE with their courses.”

The exchange of tourists between the two countries has been growing significantly in recent years. More than 70,110 Japanese tourists stayed in various hotels in Dubai in 2012, according to Jetro and the Department of Trade and Commerce Marketing, Dubai. Kamo says the decision to issue three-year multiple entry visas to UAE nationals, who can stay in Japan for up to 90 days per visit, will boost travel to Japan.
More than 270 Japanese companies operate here. Major ones have sizeably invested in the energy and automotive sectors. For instance, for Toshiba Gulf, the UAE accounts for 30 per cent of total business. Commenting on business in 2013, a source says, “It was a very tough year as the note PC market, which is our main business domain, began to shrink. However, we are trying to hit the growth path by launching new products and IT management solutions.” The company is also engaged in many social infrastructure businesses.

With iconic brands such as Toyota, Nissan and Mitsubishi, the automobile sector is also a key driver of trade. Al Futtaim Motors, the exclusive distributor of Toyota, Lexus and Hino in the UAE, has posted strong growth. “The automotive sector is showing healthy growth and we expect to maintain our position as a leading car distributor with a significant market share in the UAE,” says Jon Williams, Managing Director, Al-Futtaim Motors.