Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, good morning and thank you for your warm welcome.
I’m delighted that for the third year running, the British Government, through UK Trade & Investment, has had a hand in supporting and delivering this important event. I am also very pleased to have the opportunity to comment on the growing economic partnership between the UK and the United Arab Emirates.
But first, some context. This is an important fortnight and one which will help us to elevate the UK’s relationship with the Gulf significantly. Over the next ten days, London is hosting the ‘GCC Days’ programme of political, cultural and economic exchanges. The European Future Energy Forum - in which the UAE is, of course, the major player - is taking place just down the corridor from here. Later this week, the Lord Mayor will host the Oman Trade & Investment Forum and UKTI will launch a detailed report on sports infrastructure opportunities in the Gulf. And we welcome extensive Ministerial and high level contacts between the UK and Gulf partners in the weeks ahead.
Relations with the Gulf States are of huge significance to the UK. Over 160,000 British nationals now live and work in the Gulf, and we export around £14 billion in goods and services to the region each year. That’s on a par with our exports to China and India combined; three times more than we export to Russia; and five times more than we export to Brazil. British companies are also major investors across the region - helping to generate growth, provide services and create jobs.
Trade and investment is, of course, a two-way street. And, from the UAE, this investment includes major high-value projects in the UK, such as the £1.5billion London Gateway and the London Array offshore wind farm. The building we meet in today is, of course, another example of Abu Dhabi’s commitment to London and to the UK - and, alone, is expected to support 38,000 jobs and generate £1.6 billion of economic benefit for London by 2011. Investments like these are enhancing the UK’s productivity and will help us to provide jobs, grow our international competitiveness and achieve our ambitions for a cleaner, greener future.
Strengthening relations with the UAE is a high priority for the Government. Already, the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence have visited the UAE - while the Emirates’ Minister of Foreign Affairs, Sheikh Abdullah, has been here.
I know from talks with my opposite number, Dr Gargash, that trade & investment is central to the bilateral relationship. This is why we signed an MOU on Trade & Economic Co-operation with the UAE only last year, setting ourselves the ambitious target of increasing bilateral trade to $12 billion by 2015. Government to Government links are being facilitated through the work of a Joint Economic Committee. And we hope to establish a ‘CEO Forum’ to encourage closer business to business cooperation shortly.
The UAE remains the UK’s largest export market in the Middle East and our 13th largest globally. We exported more to the UAE last year than to many other ‘big names’ around the world - among them Japan, India, Australia, Russia and Brazil. Just as the UK is a gateway to Europe, the UAE is not only a market in its own right, but an important bridge to emerging economies in the wider Middle East, South Asia and East Africa.
Bilateral trade between the UK and the UAE topped £7.8 billion in 2009. We are delighted that the UAE Ministry of Economy now ranks the UK as one of its priority markets at a global level. But we are not complacent and we know that the rest of the world has woken up to your potential as a trade & investment partner.
We want to take our economic relationship with the UAE to the next level - making it stronger, deeper and wider. We have built some solid foundations. I am delighted that UK financial, legal and professional services are underpinning development and growth in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. I am also proud that British contractors and consultants have been involved in some of the most iconic infrastructure projects in the UAE, including the Burj Khalifa; the Yas Island Formula One circuit; the Sheikh Zayed National Museum; and, of course, MASDAR - for which British companies are providing design expertise and consultancy; power, water and sewerage solutions; and IT and communications expertise.
In the Energy sector, BP and Shell are major players in oil & gas - and we are keen to see their strong partnership with Abu Dhabi continue in the years ahead. And, in the crucially important area of Education, British providers are expanding their interests - managing schools infrastructure in Abu Dhabi; supporting educational reform; and helping to encourage innovation and science & technology collaboration.
I want our relationship to be one that drives economic growth upwards, in both the UK and the UAE; that creates jobs and equips both of our populations for the future; and that encourages the exchange of knowledge, ideas and people. I want the UK to be viewed as the best place to do business and to locate; and the first choice as a source of technology, skills, excellence and expertise. I also want us to build on what we have achieved so far - pushing our economic relationship into new areas and creating more world class partnerships between our firms.
You will be hearing today about the opportunities that exist for new business partnerships with Abu Dhabi - in banking and finance, high technologies, industry and infrastructure. In Government, we have just conducted an exercise to identify the key areas in which we think the UK is best placed to support Abu Dhabi’s development plans. I thought I would very briefly mention one or two of these.
Firstly, Energy. The European Future Energy Forum provides the launch pad for an ambitious programme of collaboration to help both our countries to realise the potential of renewable energy and move solidly towards our low-carbon future. The UK’s energy businesses, our universities and other institutions are at the forefront of the search for cleaner and more sustainable energy -and I hope and trust that the UK’s energy partnership with Masdar - and what an extraordinary concept that is - and other UAE interests will go from strength to strength.
We are also keen to guide and support the development of civil nuclear power in the UAE. UK firms are experienced at dealing with demanding national and international regulation, while also satisfying highly competitive commercial requirements. These strengths have helped create a world class nuclear supply chain that can contribute across the whole of the nuclear life cycle.
The second area I wanted to highlight is Education. Education is vital for national success. It is also one of the growth businesses of the future. I want us to pool our assets and advantages for mutual benefit: more Emirati students in the UK; more collaboration between our universities and science parks; more British companies helping to deliver education on the ground in the UAE.
And, finally, Infrastructure - and, particularly, UAE plans to develop a 21st Century rail network. We have world class expertise in the UK in design engineering, systems integration, operations, regulation and transport planning. UK specialists have worked on some of the biggest rail projects around the globe and have the capabilities and experience that could be used to help develop the ambitious plans now underway in UAE.
I am excited by the partnership that the UK enjoys with the UAE; proud of what we have achieved so far. His Excellency the Ambassador of the UAE and I have already established an excellent relationship, so you can be confident that the UK-UAE relationship will forge ahead. I am committed to taking this relationship to the next level.
As today’s event will illustrate, there is huge potential to build new and innovative links between our two countries that bring real benefits for both of our populations. I wish you all a successful day and I look forward to working with friends and colleagues in the UAE to help to follow up and deliver on the conclusions of this important Forum.