Interview: Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan

How will the EU-GCC free trade agreement (FTA) and the UAE-Schengen Area visa agreements enhance the UAE’s relationship with the EU?

SHEIKH ABDULLAH BIN ZAYED AL NAHYAN: The purpose of the EU-GCC FTA is to frame the strategic relationship between the countries of the GCC and the EU, as well as to help facilitate further trade between the two groups. The EU is the GCC’s top trade partner. Trade flows totalled €133bn in 2012, representing 12.8% of the GCC’s global trade. There are several important areas of cooperation between the EU and GCC, from those related to trade and investment, energy and climate change to other aspects such as agriculture and fisheries, as well as science and technology. To reinforce this cooperation, the GCC is committed to finalising the FTA with the EU.

In addition to this, the UAE is close to reaching an agreement with the EU to obtain visa free access for Emiratis to the Schengen Area. Given the strong economic ties and the growing traffic of persons for business, leisure, education and health care, granting UAE citizens visa-free access to Europe makes sense. The EU and the UAE are also cooperating on political issues, and approving an exemption for UAE nationals would help promote and expand our mutual interests.

Given the growing role of Asian markets in the global economy, how will the UAE look eastwards while maintaining its existing bilateral relations?

SHEIKH ABDULLAH: One of the main pillars of the UAE’s economic growth strategy is to maintain existing ties and develop new relationships with other countries on the political, social and economic levels. Asian countries have become an increasingly important economic force over the past few decades. For example, their contribution to total global output has doubled since 1950, accounting for more than two-fifths of world exports, and they currently attract a third of all foreign direct investment. That trend is expected to endure in the foreseeable future, as emerging markets continue to grow. The UAE has adapted its policies to reflect this changing economic environment. As a result, Enhancing ties and boosting bilateral relations with Asian countries is a priority for the UAE, but not at the expense of its established relationships. The UAE is at the crossroads between Asia, Europe and Africa, and this provides us with great opportunities to facilitate trade among these continents through our ports, airports, financial services, and our business-friendly environment. This makes the UAE a natural base of regional operations for companies from around the world.

What is the UAE’s role in the UN’s Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals?

SHEIKH ABDULLAH: The Millennium Development Goals that were agreed in the year 2000 will likely be substituted by a new agreement in 2015. While the world has made great progress in addressing poverty since 2000, many of the goals have not been met and there remains much to do. The international community, through the UN, is engaged in a collective effort to define the post-2015 development agenda. This is an important opportunity for us to give new momentum to development, support the environment and reduce poverty, while adding the vital dimension of sustainability. The UAE has played a major role in this new thinking. We have long been an aid donor, and in 2013 we established a new Ministry for International Cooperation and Development, under the leadership of Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi, to enhance our efforts.

In recent years we have expanded the role with half a billion dollars of renewable energy assistance in countries from Afghanistan to the Seychelles. It is in this context that we have been active supporters of the Sustainable Development Goals. Domestically, this same thinking has led us to frame a national Green Growth strategy for our own development, and we are supporting international efforts on sustainable development through the International Renewable Energy Agency, the Global Green Growth Institute, the annual Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week and many other fora.