SPRING ETERNAL

UAE, Abu Dhabi 2015 | DIPLOMACY | VIP INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Miroslav Lajčák, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign and European Affairs of the Slovak Republic, on relations between his country and Abu Dhabi.

In light of your official visit to Abu Dhabi in June 2014 with high-level UAE government officials, what are the areas of joint cooperation currently underway between Slovakia and the Emirate of Abu Dhabi?

Slovakia considers the UAE, together with other partners in the GCC, an important member of the international community seeking peaceful cooperation and supporting positive development in different parts of the world. My official visit to the UAE was aimed at elaborating on the mutually beneficial cooperation between our countries in various fields, including economic cooperation, trade, and the extension of the contractual and legal bases. In that respect, we have discussed with our Emirati partners the possible implementation of joint ventures. Of course, we are also looking forward to intensify the political dialogue and cooperation in multilateral forums. Slovakia exports to UAE many traditional commodities such as automobiles, products made by our engineering and defense industry, medical technology and equipment, decorative glass, and the highest quality crystal glass, special foodstuffs, and mineral water/soft drinks. We also provide medical services and spa treatments, such as balneotherapy in the Slovak spa town of Piešťany, which is popular in GCC countries. We are witnesses to a steady growth in the trade exchange between Slovakia and the UAE; however, what we cannot be satisfied with is the total volume of trade. We have much more to offer to each other, therefore the contacts between our authorities and business communities should intensify in order to identify new forms of cooperation. The growing importance of our mutual relations and our firm belief in their further strengthening led us to the decision to open our Embassy in Abu Dhabi in 2013. I am sure that this step will help boost our cooperation, especially in the economic and trade area.

About 2,000 Slovak citizens live in the UAE today, and this number is expected to increase. What are the factors attracting Slovakian citizens and companies to live and set up base in the UAE?

The UAE government is striving to achieve a harmonious balance between economic development and sustainable development, between openness to the world and the preservation of traditions. Confronted with major international challenges, the UAE projects an image of dynamism and responsibility to the world that commands respect. We all know that the lifestyle and infrastructure of the UAE places the country high on the list of employment destinations for many expatriates. The UAE is one of the most important global financial and trade centers. It is an important crossroads in air transportation, a country of large investment projects, which attracts businessmen from all over the world due to the high business potential and free financial capital flows. The UAE is attractive for young people due to dynamics in the development of the country. Slovakia became, both at home and abroad, a synonym for a country with outstanding science and technology, where exceptionally educated and creative people produce high-quality and innovative goods and services. The Slovak community in the UAE works mostly in the airline industry and for major global IT companies like IBM, Dell, and Microsoft.

You presented draft agreements to the UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs HH Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan against double taxation and on investment protection and promotion at the Abu Dhabi meeting in June 2014. What effect would these agreements have on the economic ties between Slovakia and the UAE?

We are well aware of the fact that in order to facilitate the broadening of bilateral economic cooperation, we need to speed-up the process of establishing a basic legislative framework. Therefore, we intend to successfully conclude negotiations on two agreements dealing with the promotion and protection of investments and the abolition of double taxation. The signing of these two agreements will create favorable conditions for bilateral economic cooperation and can give additional assurance to investors that their investments will be adequately protected.

“The UAE government is striving to achieve a harmonious balance between economic development and sustainable development."

Agreements such as visa exemption for Slovak citizens entering the UAE and the recognition of Slovak driving licenses have been put into effect in 2014. What is the significance of these agreements?

I would like to once again thank the UAE for the decision to exempt 13 EU member states—Slovakia included—from the need to acquire pre-entry visas to the UAE. This will enable Slovak citizens to travel to the UAE more often, and I am convinced that the UAE could easily become one of the top holiday destinations for Slovak tourists. I would like to emphasize that the agreement on the mutual recognition of driving licenses between the Slovak Republic and the UAE is not in effect yet; the legislative process has barely begun. We hope that we will be able to sign this agreement in the near future and increase the quality of life of Slovak citizens in the UAE.

During your visit, you opened the Slovak-Emirates Business Forum in Abu Dhabi. What areas of untapped potential in the Abu Dhabi economy do you envision becoming the focus of continued cooperation in the upcoming years?

Slovakia can support Abu Dhabi's efforts in economic diversification and build a knowledge-based economy through investing in the sectors that are envisioned by the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030. We look to contribute to the sustainable economic development process in the Emirate by participating in joint investment projects supported through know-how and technology transfer, all the while providing specialized education and training together with our UAE partners. Our vision is that Slovakia will be a business hub that connects and supports businesses between Abu Dhabi and the EU. We would like to attract knowledge-based, innovative, and value-added businesses in Abu Dhabi and provide opportunities to Abu Dhabi businesses to have a presence in the EU through our global business network. The main sectors of mutual cooperation are in the areas of air transportation, defense-specialized industry, software services, and products and information technologies for government institutions, as well as for the financial sector, railway carriages and transportation technologies, infrastructure development, oil and gas drilling technologies, construction, specialty foodstuff production technology, equipment for power stations, decorative and crystal glass, and mineral water/soft drinks. We would like to enhance cooperation in healthcare, including pharmaceutical products, medical equipment, and specialized physiotherapy and spa treatment (balneotherapy), as well as tourism. Within the framework of possible cooperation, we also see room for cultural cooperation and education. Slovakia has a tradition of long standing in providing specialized physiotherapy services and education combined with the modern medical science. In Slovakia, there are unique natural resources—more than 1,200 mineral and thermal springs, many of a healing nature. Our 22 spa resorts provide complete medical care and offer effective treatments based on usage of mineral and thermal waters. I cannot omit mentioning that Slovakia has excellent conditions for enjoying active holidays in summer and in winter. More than 40 well-equipped ski resorts with seven five-star ski resorts, 12 golf resorts, marked cycling tracks, mountains suitable for hiking, trekking, and mountaineering, and rivers and lakes suitable for water sports are waiting to be explored.

© The Business Year - September 2014