ITC keynote at the United Arab Emirates Special Day celebrating the 20th Anniversary of joining the World Trade Organization

2 June 2016
ITC News
Speech delivered by ITC Executive Director Arancha González at the United Arab Emirates Special Day celebrating the 20th Anniversary of joining the World Trade Organization
2 June 2016 - Geneva - Switzerland

Distinguished Minister Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansoori,
Ambassador Obaid Salem Saeed Nasser AL ZAABI
Ladies and Gentlemen

Thank you for your invitation to participate in this very special occasion marking the 20th anniversary of the United Arab Emirates membership in the World Trade Organisation.

Being 20 years of age, UAE is young and this means innovation and dynamism. But the UAE is also serious, it thinks and acts for the long term.

The UAE has been a pillar of consistency over these two decades. Your delegations have been constructive in the negotiations and have continued to support the importance of trade rules and regulations as critical elements of the global system of governance. UAE has been a leader. Both at the WTO and at the International Trade Centre, UAE has been what I would like to term ‘discreetly effective’.

You have been discreetly effective in pushing an agenda which supports greater diversification and value addition, not just for your country, but also for your neighbours in the Gulf. You have supported the priorities of the least developed countries by ensuring their issues are on the agenda and by partnering where you feel your voice can add value to their call. You have been a great convenor of ideas and of events. Just two years ago you hosted ITC’s World Trade Promotion Organisation event (WTPO) which brought together over 600 policymakers, and representatives from trade and investment support institutions and the private sector from around the world to talk business and to do business. Let me once again thank you for the incredible partnership on that event.

In your region – and also in the world - you have been a trailblazer in creating a knowledge-based economy, in telecommunication, in transport and logistics, and in the e-government. You have been leading in the establishment of economic and free trade zones, in the real estate industry and in tourism. For example Emirates Airlines has been among the world's fastest growing airlines and was top 5 in the list of the world’s top airlines in 2015; and Dubai Port World is one of the most active port establishments in the world with a portfolio of more than 65 marine terminals across six continents, including new developments underway in India, Africa, Europe and the Middle East.

And you have done all of this against the backdrop of respect and recognition of the importance of supporting and preserving the multilateral trading system. Trade remains an important driver of the UAE economic growth. After all UAE is the most open economy in the Arab Region and has been at the forefront of concluding a series of trade agreements with Arab States (GAFTA), EFTA, and Singapore, and has embarked on the negotiation of other trade agreements under the umbrella of the GCC.
This week as you undertake your third Trade Policy Review, the economic situation is positive but there is still much to do for the future.

You have taken steps to diversify your economy and now oil represents less than 30% of your GDP. With uncertainty in the international markets on the price of oil, an economic strategy that recognises the need to diversify into other areas and sectors is a wise one. ITC has been your partner in helping to support this diversification effort and there is much more that we can do in partnership to engender a strategy that takes advantage of many of the excellent resources which the UAE has at its finger tips.

UAE has always invested in its people. The level of innovation and creativity in the country is impressive. From tourism services to construction services, from conference services to architectural services, UAE is an untapped services paradise. Your expertise in the area of digital commerce is another area where you can be a leader in helping other developing countries climb onto that digital ladder.

UAE’s Vision 2021 is a blueprint to achieve growth and realise a modern and sustainable economic path by the Golden Jubilee of the Union in 2021. Inspired by the guidance of the National Work Program, the Vision stands on 6 national priorities which represent the key focus sectors of government action in the coming years. It includes all sectors including education, healthcare, economy, police and security, housing, infrastructure and government services, with a set of national performance indicators and a comparison of the UAE against global benchmarks.

You have also adopted a National Strategy for Innovation, which will serve to stimulate innovation in sectors where innovation is key to excellence: renewable energy, transport, education, health, technology, water and space. This is but one example of the future oriented foresight of the UAE.

In addition, the UAE is also becoming a centre of Islamic finance. The country is improving its legislation and improving the business environment by passing new laws and legislation on commercial companies, on SME development, on competition, on money laundering, and on regulation of the profession of auditors.

And the country is becoming an important international funder for development in developing countries and in Least Developed Countries. In 2014, the UAE provided US 5.1 billion in ODA according to OECD figures and preliminary data shows that in 2015 ODA from UAE reached an impressive 1.09% of GNI.

These efforts are all interlinked. This is part of the UAE roadmap to achieve a competitive, diversified, flexible economy driven by knowledge and innovation, and powered by skills.

The ITC has been a partner of the Emirati government and the business community in UAE for many years. In addition to the WTPO jointly hosted in 2014, ITC supported the creation of Dubai Export, and has worked with private and public stakeholders to better understand the opportunities which the WTO offers. My aim is to continue to strengthen our cooperation and already we are working in two particular areas: in supporting refugee and migrant workers in the region to strengthen their economic livelihoods opportunities; and developing a suite of products and interventions on SME competitiveness for the business community in the UAE, including for women owned SMEs.

The UAE should be proud of what its achievements in the 20 years of membership in the WTO. You have been a leader, an advocate for the multilateral trading system, and a partner to those countries who need the assistance to better benefit from trade led growth. I wish you continued success.

Thank you for your attention and Ramadhan Kareem.