• UAE has agreed four bilateral trade agreements, is negotiating far more
  • Cost-free trade negotiations with the GCC could take years
  • Intensification of financial competitors amongst the Gulf states

DUBAI, May well 25 (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates is increasingly pursuing bilateral trade offers outdoors the Saudi-primarily based Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) as competitors with Riyadh intensifies for financial dominance in the oil-wealthy area.

From 2021, the UAE launched a series of trade, investment and cooperation agreements – known as Extensive Financial Partnership Agreements (CEPA) – bypassing the GCC, the customs union, the frequent market place and the negotiating bloc.

Abu Dhabi and Riyadh are accelerating their post-oil financial plans to lower their dependence on fossil fuels, but the UAE has an benefit more than its bigger neighbor as the Middle East’s current organization and tourism hub. Creating on the current trade infrastructure, it now desires to turn out to be a leader in the worldwide provide chain.

The GCC has simultaneously stepped up its game, holding new rounds of Cost-free Trade Agreement (FTA) talks with big trading partners like China, South Korea and post-Brexit Britain. The GCC Secretariat has also appointed a lead trade negotiator for 2022.

Gulf affairs specialist at Waseda University, Abdullah Baabud, stated the UAE’s unilateral trade stress indicates that some members are not necessarily satisfied with the way the GCC is handling free of charge trade negotiations.

“Now there is rising competitors amongst Saudi Arabia and the UAE, specially in financial terms. The UAE… desires to be far more free of charge in terms of its negotiations on free of charge trade agreements and desires to be ahead of the curve,” Baabood stated.

The Saudi government, the UAE foreign ministry and GCC officials did not respond to requests for comment.

Asked about competitors with the UAE, Saudi Investment Minister Khalid al-Falih told a conference on Tuesday: “Inside the GCC, we see ourselves as a frequent market place… but the mixture of size, vision and good quality is vital, and Riyadh has it all worse the above and far more”.


By means of bilateral negotiations, the UAE can advance its financial and political priorities far more promptly.

From former political foes Israel and Turkey, to Asian giants India and Indonesia, the UAE has signed 4 CEPAs so far and says it negotiates the traditionally arduous trade offers in an typical of six months.

Couple of of the GCC’s free of charge trade agreements have been signed, and negotiations, such as these with China that started in 2004, could drag on for years as the bloc navigates competing domestic priorities and simmering political squabbles.

Some preceding Saudi moves have also been noticed as direct challenges to the UAE, such as directing foreign firms in 2021 to set up regional headquarters in the kingdom or threat losing government contracts.

In 2021, Riyadh unilaterally changed import guidelines from GCC nations to exclude goods produced in free of charge zones or utilizing Israeli input from preferential tariff concessions, in spite of the customs union.

For the UAE, which has its main safety ties with the West, Asia is a certain concentrate of the CEPA tactic. Talks with Malaysia and Thailand had been announced this month.

The UAE’s non-oil foreign trade will attain two.two trillion dirhams ($599 billion) in 2022, up 17% year-on-year, with re-exports up 21% from 2021, and exports up more than 50% compared to 2019 ahead of the pandemic, government information shows.

CEPA with India, a single of the UAE’s biggest trading partners, has lowered or eliminated tariffs on far more than 80% of items and is projected to attain $one hundred billion in trade inside 5 years.

Bilateral non-oil trade in the 11 months considering that the implementation of CEPA in May well 2022 was $45.five billion, an raise of six.9 % year-on-year, stated UAE Foreign Trade Minister Thani al-Zayudi.

The United Arab Emirates and India are extremely close to a deal to settle some trade in non-oil goods in rupees, two sources told Reuters.

Dubai-primarily based economist Nasser Saidi stated CEPAs could be a “stepping stone” in economic markets, facilitating cross-listing of providers and cooperation in new sectors such as clean power. “They signal a selection to engage on a broader diplomatic front.”


The UAE has far more than ten CEPAs in operation, but some big partners such as China, Britain and South Korea favor free of charge trade talks with the six-member GCC, which has a population of 56 million and in 2021 stated to have a combined GDP of 1.six trillion dollars.

“Negotiating a free of charge trade agreement at the GCC level could facilitate … perform amongst jurisdictions inside the GCC and could facilitate the broader geopolitical ambitions of fostering higher financial integration in the Middle East,” stated Asia House’s Freddie Neve.

Relations amongst Saudi Arabia, below Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and China have strengthened in current years, providing new impetus to China-GCC free of charge trade talks and bilateral investment.

Some analysts think that a free of charge trade agreement amongst the GCC and China will be finalized in 2024.

South Korea was a single of the very first nations to initiate negotiations on CEPA. 3 months later, on the other hand, he relaunched dormant GCC free of charge trade talks.

“We are asking person nations to opt for a path on which they are comfy negotiating,” UAE Minister Zayudi told Reuters.

There is regional precedent: Bahrain and Oman signed bilateral free of charge trade agreements with the United States in 2006 and 2009, respectively.

The British Embassy in Dubai, on the other hand, stated Britain was committed to a GCC free of charge trade agreement of “highest financial and strategic worth to each parties”.

Zeyudi stated that even though CEPA agreements need to be in line with the GCC customs union, person nations can be bilateral if terms are much less favorable than with the GCC bloc.

GCC declined to comment.

Reporting by Rac“Ľna Uppal and Lisa Barrington Further reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi in Riyadh Editing by Elaine Hardcastle

Our Requirements: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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