One year into Abraham Accords, Israel's trade with UAE tops $570m.
Fleur Hassan-Nahoum and Dorian Barak
(photo credit: ABDULLA BAQER)
Trade could reach $1 billion for the whole of 2021, and could exceed $3 billion within three years.
A year into the Abraham Accords, some $570 million in business has been done between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, according to data from the Central Bureau of Statistics.
During 2020 and the first six months of 2021, Israel exported $197 million of goods and services to the UAE, and imported about $372 million.
Trade could reach $1 billion for the whole of 2021, and could exceed $3 billion within three years, according to the UAE-Israel Business Council, an organization connecting businesses in the two countries.
On August 13, then-US President Donald Trump announced that Israel and the United Arab Emirates had agreed to normalize relations. What has followed has been a whirlwind of follow-on peace deals with Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan that continues to reshape political alliances in the Middle East.
Since then, Israeli companies are starting to recognize the potential offered by the UAE’s economic ecosystem, said Dorian Barak, an investor and co-founder of the UAE-Israel Business Council.
“The Emirates are a place where people from all over the world come to engage in commerce, with unique advantages compared with other jurisdictions that make it a unique platform to reach the entire world,” Barak said.
“It is comparable to Hong Kong and Singapore in that they are not just markets to sell to, they are marketplaces for the entire world. That’s why the UAE is the business capital of the entire region. Every country has a presence there.”
The United Arab Emirates has more than 35 free-trade zones offering tax exemptions, world-class technology infrastructures, and shipping and trade systems designed to made business as simple as possible, Ramy Jallad, CEO of the Ras Al Khaimah Economic Zone, noted at the Global Investment Forum in June, sponsored by The Jerusalem Post and the Khaleej Times.
“Israelis are always looking for ways to do business in South Asia, East Africa, India and Bangladesh,” Barak said. “These are markets with two billion people, and you can’t work with them from Tel Aviv. The UAE is the place where everyone congregates to do business, and Israel has finally been admitted to that club.”
The first year of normalization with the UAE has been very successful, despite many challenges, said Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, co-founder of the UAE-Israel Business Council and Deputy mayor of Jerusalem.
“We faced a worldwide pandemic, and that hampered tourism, but we still had about 230,000 Israelis visit the UAE,” Hassan-Nahoum said. which has tourism. “Imagine what could have been done if there was no pandemic.”
“We also went through a conflict with the Palestinians in May, and that wasn’t easy, but both sides came out with determination to keep the relationship going. Normalization did not make the press there more neutral, and they still demonized Israel a lot. Our friends were reaching out to us with a lot of questions. So we did a number of seminars and briefings to give over the facts. We encouraged them to ask us anything, and said that no question was too uncomfortable to be asked. That’s how a relationship becomes stronger, and we are a stronger group because of it.”
“One can’t underestimate the power of a mutual desire for peace,” Hassan-Nahoum said. “Business is one of the best forums to create a warm peace, by learning to trust each other and learn each side’s cultural sensitivities. There are cultural differences. I don’t like to generalize, but Israelis often tend to be more transactional, while Emiratis are more relationship-oriented. The first year was mainly about getting to know each other and build those relationships.”
That’s not all that was done, though. More than half a billion dollars in business was done between the two countries, and that doesn’t include tourism or investments between the countries. The largest commercial agreement so far between the two countries was Delek Drilling’s sale of its 22% share in the offshore Tamar natural-gas field to Abu Dhabi’s Mubdala Petroleum Company for $1.1 billion in April.
“There are many important private equity investors in the UAE, and it is just a matter of time before we see more Emirati companies taking large stakes in Israeli companies,” Barak said.
The UAE-Israel Business Council now has 4,000 members, evenly split between Israelis and Emiratis, Hassan-Nahoum said. She also co-founded the Gulf-Israel Women’s Forum, which includes an equal split of Israeli and Gulf country nationals, including some whose countries don’t yet have relationships with Israel. “What we did is we created the infrastructure for people to be able to create encounters in business together,” Hassan-Nahoum said.
Hassan-Nahoum offered a list of business collaborations that were facilitated through her councils, in fields like technology, green energy, banking, and more. “But beyond that, every area of society has reached out for cooperation. I’m involved with a project to bring Israeli and American best practices for people with special needs. There are projects being set up for art, football, culture. Even the Israeli little league for baseball came and played in a tournament in Dubai.”
As part of her work with the Jerusalem Municipality, Hassan-Nahoum is currently working on a project to bring R&D jobs from Emirati businesses to east Jerusalem for the local Arab population. “things are growing very quickly,” Hassan-Nahoum said. “No one imagined anything like this.”