Tue 01-12-2020 19:53 PM
By Binsal Abdulkader
ABU DHABI, 1st December 2020 (WAM) -- With US$16.6 billion Swiss investments in the UAE and an annual bilateral trade worth US$21 billion, UAE is Switzerland’s most important trade partner in the Middle East and North Africa, the Swiss foreign minister told Emirates News Agency.
"More than 200 Swiss companies are represented in the UAE and many of them use the UAE as a hub for exports to other countries in the region and beyond," said Ignazio Cassis, the Head of the Swiss Federal Department of Foreign Affairs.
"In 2019, our bilateral trade increased by 24.5 percent to almost 19 billion CHF [US$21 billion]," he revealed in an exclusive interview with WAM in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, adding that in 2018, Swiss companies invested almost 15 billion CHF [US$16.6 billion] in the UAE and employed 11,000 people.
FDI law amendment and new opportunities
"We hope that Swiss companies can benefit from the recent legal amendments regarding foreign direct investments in the UAE," Cassis said.
He was referring to the decree issued by President His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan on 23rd November, which annulled the requirement for commercial companies to have a major Emirati shareholder or agent, providing full foreign ownership of onshore companies.
The top Swiss diplomat revealed that precious metals and jewellery constitute the biggest part of the bilateral trade.
The economic diversification in the UAE will provide new opportunities for small and medium enterprises in Switzerland that produce specialised technical solutions, for example, in the area of sustainable farming, water stewardship, or healthcare, explained Cassis, 59, who became the foreign minister in 2017.
On his two-day visit to Abu Dhabi on Monday and Tuesday, the top Swiss diplomat met with H.H. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, and reviewed the prospects of fostering the cooperation and friendship between the two nations in various fields.
They discussed the growing cooperation in the fields of education, artificial intelligence, technology, health and economy, in addition to exchanging views over a number of regional and international issues of mutual interest.
Economic cooperation first priority
The Swiss minister continued to say that economic cooperation will be Switzerland’s first priority in the bilateral relations with the UAE in the next four years. Innovation, new technologies and sustainable development will be other priorities.
"During my visit to Abu Dhabi, I have seen with my own eyes how much the UAE is investing in innovation and new technologies. While the UAE is by far the most innovative Arab country, Switzerland is the most innovative country worldwide according to the Global Innovation Index," he pointed out.
"Our Technical Universities in Zurich [ETH] and Lausanne [EPFL] are well-known and connected, which is exemplified by the Middle East EPFL Ras Al Khaimah," the official said, referring to the pioneering research centre in the UAE, which converges graduate and postgraduate research in the field of energy and sustainability.
The institution embodies the shared vision of the Government of Ras Al Khaimah and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.
Cassis, a specialised medical doctor by profession, began his political career in 2004 with his election to the legislative authority of the Ticino municipality of Collina d'Oro.
He was elected to the Federal Assembly in September 2017 and took up his post as Head of the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs on 1st November 2017.
"I very much enjoyed my first visit to the UAE and I look forward to coming back soon in the context of the Expo 2020 Dubai," he said.
"Switzerland has been the first country to sign up for the Expo and we look forward to presenting innovative projects and ideas for a sustainable future, embedded within Switzerland’s beautiful landscapes."
WAM/ Ibrahim Shukralla