How would you best describe the special bond that Sweden has built with the UAE over more than four decades of partnership and trust? Please elaborate while referencing diplomatic relations and bilateral trade between Sweden and the UAE.
Relations between the UAE and Sweden stretch back to even before the inception of the UAE as a country. The first Swedish companies set up their businesses in the 1960s. Ever since we established diplomatic relations in 1972, our bilateral relations with the UAE have been excellent and have enhanced and deepened continuously in various areas. Sweden had an embassy in Abu Dhabi, with its Head acting as Chargé d’Affaires under the Embassy in Kuwait 1983–92, and then a fully-fledged embassy since 2002. The Swedish Trade and Invest Council, Business Sweden, has an office in Dubai since 2007. The UAE has an embassy in Stockholm since 2005.
There is a substantial Swedish community here which is growing, and today we have approximately 5,000 Swedish citizens working and living in the UAE, which is a high number for Sweden!
Swedish-UAE trade relations have a long-standing history, with leading Swedish companies such as IKEA, Ericsson, ABB and Volvo being present for many years. In recent years, the trade ties have grown even stronger. Today, the UAE is one of Sweden’s most important trading partners in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia region – 30 per cent of the Swedish exports to the region go to the UAE. Swedish exports increased with impressive 27 per cent last year and reached more than three billion Dirhams.
Overall, I would say that the Swedish – UAE business relations are strong, and they keep growing stronger. The UAE’s favourable business environment and success as an investment destination has had an impact on Swedish corporate decision makers. Swedish business has a substantial presence in the UAE with more than 200 Sweden-related companies already here and many more that are considering the UAE when establishing their business set-up in the region.
So, the UAE also works as a regional hub for Swedish companies serving neighbouring countries. UAE’s business presence in Sweden is not yet at the same level but has the potential to grow as we see an increase in investments from the Gulf region in Sweden.
Recently, Abu Dhabi’s M42 acquired Sweden’s dialysis provider Diaverum which makes M42 the largest healthcare company in the Middle East. This investment is perhaps a testament to Sweden being a leading innovation country and a frontrunner in R&D, green transition, sustainability and life sciences. There are many interesting developments happening in Swedish business and industry with regard to climate impact, such as sustainable battery production, fossil free steel, green energy, advanced digital technologies, and new materials are being reinvented by entrepreneurial start-ups, international heavy-hitters, and research and academia.
Among the Swedish companies present here you will find well-known MNCs like Volvo, Scania, Saab, Ericsson, Electrolux, ABB, H&M, IKEA, AstraZeneca and many more, as well as interesting start-ups, many within the area of innovation and sustainability. Gulf Rock and GAC are examples of companies that have been here before 1971. Swedish companies are providing and supporting more than 15,000 jobs directly or indirectly on the local job market.
Swedish companies have invested more than Dh1 billion in the UAE since the first establishment.
We see great opportunities to further increase collaboration and bilateral trade between Sweden and the UAE. In the UAE, we see opportunities for Swedish companies in areas such as healthcare, transport, IT, telecommunications and energy sectors. Swedish companies are famous for being frontrunners in providing innovative and sustainable solutions and services. We also see increasing opportunities for Emirati companies to invest and expand in Sweden. Sweden has a long-standing industrial and manufacturing history, which has created some of our most well-known companies and there is a strong knowledge base within advanced manufacturing practices.
Additionally, Sweden is the Silicon Valley of Europe, having the most start-up unicorns after the Silicon Valley in the US. There is a booming tech and digital industry, particularly in Stockholm, and it is expected to continue growing in the coming years.
What were the key milestones in Sweden and the UAE’s bilateral relations and what are your focus areas now when it comes to strengthening relationships with the UAE?
The obvious first milestone was the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1972 and now, since many years, we have embassies in each other’s country working actively to further our relations. Over the years, we have entered several cooperation agreements such as on investment protection, environmental technology, innovation, SMEs, R&D, aviation and space. There are regular political high-level exchanges. Just recently the Swedish Government had the pleasure to welcome Minister of State Noura Al Kaabi who participated in the EU Indo-Pacific Ministerial Forum in Stockholm.
Expo 2020 in Dubai was a major milestone in our bilateral relations with several high-level visits from Sweden. The highlight of Expo 2020 Dubai to us was of course the celebration of Sweden Day and when we had the honour to receive King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden.
I believe that both our countries have a lot to gain from working ever more closely together, and especially in the area of the green transition. With the upcoming COP28, we see great opportunities to further expand our cooperation and join forces with the UAE in combatting the climate challenge, but also in finding new opportunities within the green transition to create growth and new business opportunities. Sweden is very much looking forward to the COP28 in Dubai and we will do our utmost to make the summit a success with concrete results.
Sweden is a global leader in building a low-carbon economy. How could Sweden contribute to the UAE’s energy transition? Please share details on Sweden’s participation at COP28 later this year.
Let me start by stating the obvious. Global warming is the single most pressing matter that we must tackle and the responsibility to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is something that we all have in common. Sweden’s goal is to be one of the world’s first fossil-free welfare nations. We are aiming to have zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2045 at the latest – this is our long-term target – and to achieve negative net emissions after that.
Sweden is taking the global challenges we face this decade very seriously. We need bold and progressive solutions; with the actions we take today set to shape the future for generations to come. Sweden believes global changemakers are key to success. Sweden is leading the green and digital transition in mobility, green energy, smart manufacturing, life sciences, and emerging technologies, which are pivotal for sustainable growth.
Let me also take this opportunity to mention some high-profile industrial projects taking place in the north of Sweden. Two projects involve carbon-free iron and steel production making Sweden not only the first country in the world to produce fossil-free steel, but also the first country to export fossil-free iron to the whole world. Iron metal is produced by using hydrogen gas as the main reductant which means a lot of green hydrogen will be required
Another industrial project under the fossil-free initiative worth taking a closer look at is the Northvolt project which will manufacture green batteries mainly for the transport sector. In the northern Swedish town Skellefteå, two lithium-ion battery gigafactories are under construction. Northvolt will soon be a European supplier of sustainable, high-quality battery cells and systems. These projects will of course require stable and renewable electricity, which is a challenge that needs to be addressed.
Are you expecting any high-profile visits from Sweden later this year?
As COP28 is of great importance to Sweden, we are expecting several high-level official visits. Additionally, we know there is a very strong interest for COP28 from a broad range of sectors; so I expect we will have a very busy time receiving several high-level delegations participating at COP28!
Finally, 2023 is a double jubilee year for Sweden as it marks both King Carl XVI Gustaf ‘s 50th jubilee as Sweden’s current monarch and the 500th anniversary of Gustav Vasa’s election as King of Sweden. How does the embassy in the UAE plan to mark the occasions?
Let me share a brief history lesson why the double jubilee year is so important to Sweden. In 1523, on June 6, Gustav Vasa was elected King of Sweden. That is why Sweden is celebrating its National Day on June 6. With Gustav Vasa elected, Sweden left the Kalmar Union with Denmark and Norway, and once again became independent. Under King Gustav Vasa, the Protestant Reformation was introduced, and the church was nationalised.
During King Gustav Vasa’s reign, Sweden would also lay the foundations of the strong central governance it would develop over centuries to come.
So, this 500th anniversary as well as the King of Sweden’s 50th jubilee deserve to be celebrated and the most obvious day to do so is on our National Day, June 6, when we have a big celebration with our Emirati friends, Swedish companies, and many others. Apart from a taste of Swedish food and music, we have a manifestation of Sweden’s impressive achievements in innovation.
Sweden is known for leading-edge technology, renewable energy, sustainable transportation, high quality healthcare, and innovation culture, among others. Being the home of the Nobel Prize and a top-ranking nation in innovation – and creativity indexes and registered patents per capita, Sweden has fostered a culture of innovation.
As part of the National Day celebrations to commemorate these important milestones, we have the ‘Pioneer the Possible’ photo exhibition, taking the audience on a journey through the timeline of Swedish innovations− from the safety match, the zipper, the pacemaker, dynamite, the ball bearing and the adjustable wrench, to many Swedish multinational companies started as a result of innovation such as ABB, AstraZeneca, Electrolux, Elekta, Ericsson, IKEA, SAAB, Scania, Tetra Pak and Volvo.
The UAE is a country with a strong vision when it comes to technological development and innovation. We share the ambitions for innovation and development and have similar challenges in this endeavour. We hope to learn more from each other in this regard.
It’s a great privilege to celebrate Sweden’s double jubilee this year in Abu Dhabi.
The National Day celebration is a wonderful opportunity to highlight the amazing history of Sweden as well as the modern nation of today!