Under the title “United Arab Emirates, its economy and bilateral relations with Spain”, the Hon. Mr. Antonio Álvarez Barthe, Ambassador of Spain to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), participated the last October 22 2019 in the International Classroom program organized by the CEI International Affairs.


At the meeting, to which different personalities from the business and university world attended, the Ambassador Álvarez spoke about the history, politics, economy and the place that Spain has on the relations with the UAE.


Starting for a summary of the country’s history, the Ambassador Álvarez explained the particularities of the British colonization of the UAE, based on a protectorate system with a high autonomy in internal affairs, as well as the historical process of the federation of the emirates after its independence. Moreover, he said that, despite the country’s federal character, the emirate of Abu Dhabi, the most prosperous, has been consolidating its power and centrality in the federation, as reflected in the fact that the highest authority of the UAE, the president, is the emir of Abu Dhabi itself, Khalifa bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.


Encuentro con el Embajador de España en Emiratos Árabes Unidos - CEI


The UAE stands out because of its internal stability.


  • Without a liberal democratic regime, the rulers have assured their relative legitimacy through their will and ability to raise the living standards of citizens.


  • The particular composition of the population also stands out: of the county’s ten million residents only one and a half million (a 12%) have the Emirati nationality.


  • The workforce bulk is foreign, in many cases long-term residents who cannot obtain the Emirate nationality due to the limited naturalization regime.


Encuentro con el Embajador de España en Emiratos Árabes Unidos - CEI


With regard to the characteristics of the market and the existing economic opportunities, the Ambassador emphasized on the hiper-competitive nature of the Emirate market and the particular idiosyncrasy of the business customs, which require to investors an approach based on perseverance and confidence relationship with local partners.


The UAE has achieved to occupy a position as business hub thanks to its geographical position, at the mid-way between Europe and the Asia-Pacific, and the liberal nature of its society, very opened to what comes from abroad in comparison with other countries of the area. The Ambassador Álvarez also pointed out that the percentage of oil and gas industries’ revenue with respect to the GDP is relatively low (30%) if it is compared with other countries of the Persian Gulf. It is in this way because the Emirates have managed to diversify its economy; specially, they are fomenting bank, energy and tourism sectors (including medical tourism) and infrastructures.


Encuentro con el Embajador de España en Emiratos Árabes Unidos - CEI


Regarding the country’s foreign policy, Ambassador Álvarez pointed out the policy of alliances that the UAE have forged over the years: alliance with the United States and alienation with the capitalist block during the Cold War, as well as a policy of good relations and no enmity with the main regional powers (including Iran). This situation allowed the UAE to focus on its internal development without having to be involved in regional conflicts.


Nonetheless, in the last years, a change in this approach can be perceived, with new nuances and vectors that start to break some past equilibriums. Either the economic model for development itself or its regional strategic vision and the involved diplomatic re-equilibriums have derived in a higher participation in foreign politics, especially at the regional scope, where it has played and is playing a significant role in the development of Yemen, Syria, Libya or the Horn of Africa. In foreign politics, as well, the UAE stands out for being one of the countries that invest more money in OAD.


Encuentro con el Embajador de España en Emiratos Árabes Unidos - CEIRegarding the relations with Spain, it should be highlighted, on the one hand, the great trade superavit of Spain towards the UAE and, on the other hand, the fact that the largest Spanish colony in all Asia is found in the UAE. In addition, the Ambassador also pointed out the interest that the Emirate citizenry has in the Spanish culture.


Mr. Álvarez ended by highlighting the role that the Expo Dubai 2020 is going to have in the building of a good country’s reputation within the international community.


Report elaborated by Manel Gispert

Internship at CEI International Affairs - Degree in Global Studies, UPF


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