Ras Al Khaimah 2018 | DIPLOMACY | REVIEW

Though regional tensions have created instability, Ras Al Khaimah has continued to forge new global relationships to bring investment to the Emirate.

The UAE's diplomatic relationships can be divided into regional and global relationships. Within the GCC and the wider MENA region, the Emirates navigate a complex mix of interests. 2017 brought a spat between the UAE and neighbor Qatar that led to the two countries severing diplomatic relationships and the imposition of sanctions. Elsewhere in the region, the UAE has worked with its allies to resist the spread of Iranian influence, combat terrorism, and build a more diversified regional economy. In the wider world, the focus has been on forming new connections. For Ras Al Khaimah, that has meant working to bring new foreign investment to the Emirate in order to boost its tourism and industrial sectors. Moving forward, the UAE's focus is on strengthening its networks within the region in order to secure its economic future. Heavily dependent on the interconnected global economy for growth and success, the UAE knows that careful diplomatic work will be essential to avoiding needless conflicts and building a better future.

Long a complicated group of allies and competing interests, the Middle East brought no shortage of tensions that threatened Ras Al Khaimah's interests in 2017. The most high-profile diplomatic dustup occurred in June 2017, when the UAE joined with Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt to cut diplomatic ties and establish a naval and airspace blockade with Qatar, citing its support for terrorism and ongoing relationship with Iran in violation of GCC policy. The announcement led to curtailed financial and economic relations between the UAE and Qatar and the exit of Qatari diplomats and citizens from the country. For Ras Al Khaimah and the rest of the UAE, the economic effect of the dispute has been less than anticipated. The single largest source of visitors for the Ras Al Khaimah tourism industry is the UAE itself, and the loss of Qatari visitors has been offset by new growth from the internal and European markets. Likewise, the loss of Qatari investors has had a minimal effect on the housing and industrial sectors.
Elsewhere in the region, the UAE's actions have been characterized by an emphasis on GCC unity, economic cooperation, and diplomatic solutions to security issues. A founding member of the GCC, the UAE has, at times, pushed for the organization to take a larger role in ensuring regional security. It has worked closely with Saudi Arabia to try to manage the ongoing conflict in Yemen and build regional coalitions resistant to Iranian influence. The UAE is also a member of the Arab League, an organization of 22 Arab states in the MENA region with the stated goal of encouraging shared interests and preserving individual sovereignty.
2018 has also brought a new wave of intra-UAE unity thanks to the Emirates' Year of Zayed celebrations in honor of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Sheikh Zayed Al Nahyan, who played a critical role in the foundation of the UAE. The Emirates are taking advantage of the occasion to reinforce the ties between individual Emirates and recognize their shared legacy. One of the initiatives launched by the UAE to commemorate Sheikh Zayed's birth is an educational awareness program that will use the four core principles of wisdom, respect, sustainability, and human development to highlight Sheikh Zayed's importance in the region and start new discussions on how he can serve as an example for the modern Arab world. In Ras Al Khamiah, the Year of Zayed has been marked by a wave of charity and service drives that have brought private industry and public institutions together to benefit the community. One such drive, overseen by the Ras Al Khaimah branch of the philanthropic Dar Al Ber society, collected medicine from pharmaceutical companies to cover the medical needs of 100 families.
Beyond the MENA region the UAE's foreign relations have focused on building new economic partnerships and bringing investment into the Emirates. For Ras Al Khaimah, this has meant expanding its tourism markets to raise awareness of its offerings and attract tourists looking for luxury and adventure options at a better value than Dubai or Abu Dhabi. Eastern Europe has been an area of particular importance; in 2017, the Ras Al Khaimah tourism market saw the number of visitors from Russia, Poland, and the Czech Republic increase by 79%, 160%, and 51%, respectively. This came about thanks to the Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority (RAKTDA) working closely with partners in these countries to offer new travel packages, open up new direct flights, and make consumers aware of the Emirate's offerings. Moving forward, Ras Al Khaimah's focus will continue to be on using its reputation for stability and affordability to make inroads in emerging markets.
On the industrial side, the UAE is displaying what it has to offer to countries and firms looking for a foothold in the region. Its network of free trade zones and robust logistics infrastructure make it an attractive site for investment. Ras Al Khaimah, as one of the UAE's industrial centers, is particularly noteworthy in this regard. The Ras Al Khaimah Economic Zone (RAKEZ) is at the center of these efforts; already home to firms from more than 100 countries, Ras Al Khaimah officials are in the process of forming new partnerships with foreign firms. RAKEZ has offices in Turkey, Germany, and India. The India office represented an important step toward developing one of the world's largest and fastest-growing markets; approximately 20% of the foreign firms in RAKEZ are Indian, and opening an office in the market is expected to dramatically reduce the time needed for registration in the economic zone.
For the medium term, RAKEZ officials have expressed their hopes of increasing bilateral trade between India and the UAE from the USD59 billion recorded in 2016 to USD100 billion by 2020. To this end, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited the UAE in February 2018 and signed five MoUs for joint economic initiatives in the energy, transport, and financial services sectors.
Similar efforts are underway to strengthen trade with China as well. In late 2017, China signed an agreement to strengthen ties with the UAE. Already the Emirates' second-largest trading partner, the agreements call for new investment in SMEs and research as well as a range of joint efforts across sectors ranging from healthcare to aviation. The UAE envisions itself as a key Chinese partner in the region, able to fulfill important parts of the Chinese One Belt, One Road Initiative. With more than USD900 billion expected to be invested by China as part of its infrastructure plans across Asia and beyond, increased diplomatic partnerships between the two countries could reap benefits for the UAE's economic future. ✖