H.M. Ambassador and H.M. Consul General’s Business briefing to the British Business Groups 28 May 2020.
Ambassador Patrick Moody was delighted to be able to speak to both Business Groups at the same time thanks to the new virtual way of working. He thanked and congratulated the chairs, the BBG Committee and all the members on setting up and contributing to the BBG microsite, demonstrating the added value that the Business Groups bring and he encouraged all British businesses to join them so we can work together. DIT has been working closely with the BBGs in their efforts to inform and advocate for the membership. The Embassy team has also been busy assisting Brits to return to the UK, making the case for those who wish to return and keeping them up dated with changes, through the travel advice.
Every government has been greatly challenged by this situation, but we are fortunate to live in a country where effective public health measures have been taken to control the spread of Covid 19 and where the quality of medical care is good. The UAE has one of the highest levels of testing in the world, now at 20% of population, a low morbidity rate and there have been no shortages of equipment or supplies. The situation still has some time to run so it will continue to be a challenging operational context for some time.
The UAE have also laid out a support package to help businesses. The UAE Central Bank has introduced a Dh256bn economic support scheme to ease financial difficulties faced by businesses and other initiatives have created approximately Dh26bn worth of additional stimulus packages. The UAE have told us how important the UK companies are to the recovery.
The UAE Government is acting to deal with the economic implications of Covid-19 in a tight fiscal situation; signalling a shake-up of structures and priorities to further diversify the economy and support recovery in a changing environment.
The Ministry of Economy is aligning national industries with global trends – giving government a more active role in the economy and increasing investment in digital infrastructure. That includes investment in the green economy, renewable energy, electric cars, 3D printing, biotech, genetic engineering and robotics.
Going forward the UAE will continue to have a focus on Emiratisation and in-country value schemes, which may pose challenges for UK companies as well as opportunities. There are still prospects for stimulus from Dubai Expo 2020. UAE hopes to expand diversification into more innovative sectors, such as e-learning, agri-tech, space, AI, health and life sciences, renewable energy and e-commerce, which the UK will take advantage of.
There will be an acceleration of the trend to look at efficiencies between Emirates. Moreover, there will be some big choices for the UAE, for example, oil vs new green tech, low cost labour vs higher value and less reliance on construction.
Both countries have a deep friendship, only strengthened by the close working in this crisis. We are working closely together and are committed to global trade, innovation and the alignment of our industrial strategies.
The Ambassador informed us about the British Community Assistance Fund, (BCAF), which was formed in 1986 to assist British nationals in Dubai and the Northern Emirates, who found themselves in distress.
To date BCAF has assisted more than 2,500 individuals who have needed help, many of whom were enabled to return to the UK after their situation had been regularised here. Not only financial assistance is provided, but also counselling and help with medical or legal problems, frequently provided on a ‘pro bono’ basis.” A message can be left for them on their helpline (04) 337 1413.
HM Consul General (HMCG) to Dubai, Andrew Jackson, who is also the Department for International Trade’s Head for the whole of the UAE, underlined the priority in the Embassy’s work on the COVID 19 healthcare response, supporting British nationals and listening to business. He covered three main areas: the Embassy’s recent engagement with UK business and the UAE authorities; the BBG survey’s insights and feedback, including on the local economic stimulus; and initial thoughts on opportunities and challenges ahead.
HMCG underlined how the Department for International Trade’s UAE team had prioritised listening to business through a range of remote engagement, close work with the BBG and support available through the Centres for British Business (BCB). A range of activity has included sector specific and cross-sector roundtables, most recently on education and skills, with the BBG for the construction sector and a business briefing with Dubai Customs. HMCG acknowledged the BBG’s new microsite, with a range of useful information on the UAE stimulus package.
The UAE authorities’ recent engagement with ministers and senior officials reflected the breadth of the UK UAE partnership. For example, topics had ranged from health as a particular priority in the current situation, to the economy, food security, education, advanced science and artificial intelligence.
HMCG noted the main elements of the UAE stimulus package, both the initial elements and more recent schemes. He welcomed the BBG’s initiative with their survey and acknowledged important insights in the survey results, for example the priority to help businesses access the best possible information stimulus measures and available support. Also a positive message on the commitment of UK business to new opportunities, including through innovation in the use of technology. The UAE authorities were interested in the experience of UK business, so the survey insights would help inform the Embassy’s continued engagement.
HMCG also welcomed the important direct contribution of UK businesses and individuals to the COVID 19 response. This ranged from front line healthcare professionals to other individual efforts to donations of medical supplies and other support from some companies. He also drew attention to the wide range of donations and support the UAE had provided internationally.
As well as national stimulus measures, HMCG noted the UK’s international priority to help keep trade flowing and supply chains open so we can all have the essential supplies we need in this difficult time. Free trade and resilient supply chains, through open markets would be crucial to the global economic recovery.
HMCG encouraged businesses to let us know of any particular concerns or challenges and noted recent initiatives that had helped small UK businesses, for example, the relaxation of some Arabic language requirements on food products. HMCG noted the positive examples shared at Dubai Customs virtual event of how UAE ports were operating well and innovating to improve the flow of trade. We were aware of some temporary restrictions on healthcare exports but our understanding is that these don’t affect transhipments and exceptions may be granted.
Looking ahead, HMCG noted new opportunities already emerging, also noting the UAE Government’s recent announcements on priorities for recovery.
Healthcare was a long-standing area of strong partnership, getting even stronger as we work together in responding to the pandemic. Opportunities ranged from frontline healthcare provision by UK providers to UK service expertise or innovative use of new technologies, both in the COVID response and wider healthcare.
Education was another example with a number of UK companies finding opportunities through ed-tech and online learning. Innovation in delivery of examinations and certification was another important area. The high numbers of UK curriculum schools and UK universities were a particular strength, as well as collaboration on regulatory best practice. British universities in UAE already deliver through diverse means from branch campuses to joint programmes and online provision and have adapted to the current situation. We also see scope for more opportunities in vocational training, including current work exploring scope for online training.
HMCG noted other emerging such as agri-tech, wider tech, clean and renewable energy and cyber security expertise which offered growing opportunities alongside established sectors. While there remained significant challenges and uncertainties in some areas, for example the effects of reduced air travel, and short-term impacts were significant for some companies, in future there would be opportunities as the UAE set out to further diversity its economy as part of recovery. DIT would continue to help identify opportunities across the board and help UK companies to take advantage of them.
On the wider picture, HMCG updated the meeting on the work of the UK UAE Business Council including its two new co-chairs. There had been a number of virtual meetings with business and a first remote meeting of the Council with its new structure was planned for July. HMCG also looked forward to the Dubai Expo’s new dates in 2021, noting its added importance after such a challenging period.
HMCG concluded by reflecting on the strength of the UK UAE partnership. Whether longstanding in market, or newer arrivals, the understanding, expertise and track record on quality which the UK offered, would help companies find opportunities to be a part of further strengthening that partnership.