Symbol of economic success
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) celebrates its 40th anniversary this year - and can look back over four decades in which it has rocketed from near obscurity to becoming one of the most prosperous states. What was once a sandy backwater is now on the must-see list, and - as the most obvious symbol of economic success - it is home to the tallest building in the world, the 828-metre Burj Khalifa.
The parallels between the UAE and Hong Kong are inescapable: both rose from very little to rank among the world's foremost financial hubs. And a healthy commercial relationship between Hong Kong and the UAE continues to flourish.
'Hong Kong and the UAE have a very special relationship,' says Ahmed Alkhaja, Consul General of the United Arab Emirates in Hong Kong. 'Hong Kong's economic autonomy makes it one of the best trade and investment destinations for UAE companies. On the other hand, the UAE has always been and still is the largest export market for Hong Kong in the Middle East.
'The volume of trade between Hong Kong and the UAE made an impressive rebound after a slumber period in 2009, registering an average growth of 47 per cent during this year compared to an average 12 per cent growth during 2010.
'Negotiations have been taking place between Hong Kong and the UAE to sign an agreement on the surrender of fugitive offenders and another on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters. I believe the relationship between the UAE and Hong Kong is marked by open horizons for more co-operation.'
Knitting together seven emirates - Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ras al-Khaimah, Ajman, Umm al-Quwain and Fujairah - the UAE has fared well economically, thanks to oil, its geographical position and a prudent investment strategy. The principles laid down by the UAE's founding father, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, still hold good today. The resources derived from oil and gas are shared to develop infrastructure. It is still firmly believed that the UAE's best resources are its people, and that they should benefit from the best available access to education, health care and social services, to equip them to play their full part in the UAE's growth.
As the UAE attracts many nationalities, it's a country where tolerance prevails, although its own national culture is cherished. The UAE seeks to promote dialogue, co-operation and the resolution of conflicts, both within the Arab world, the broader Islamic community, and internationally.
Revenues from oil and gas production provide an important contribution to the national economy. With the fourth largest oil reserves in the world, production of about 2.5 million barrels a day, and the fifth largest gas reserves in the world, the UAE is one of the world's largest producers of hydrocarbons. A large-scale investment programme is under way to increase sustainable production capacity of onshore and offshore oilfields, in Abu Dhabi, while work is proceeding according to schedule to bring on stream new oil fields in Abu Dhabi and Dubai.
The success of a longstanding programme to diversify has meant that oil and gas revenues now account for only about 30 per cent of gross national product. Tourism accounts for well over 10 per cent of GDP with more than 12 million visitors every year. The UAE's seaports are contributing to boosting tourism, attracting dozens of cruise liners a year, although more conventional seaborne trade continues to account for most of the country's shipping business, in particular marine bunkering; Fujairah is now the second largest bunkering port in the world.
Another indication of the health of the local economy is provided by its non-oil foreign trade, which rose by 14 per cent in 2010, to 754.4 billion dirhams (HK$1.6 trillion). Exports rose by 27 per cent, and re-exports by 26 per cent, with non-oil imports rising by only 8 per cent. Foreign trade has also continued to rise in 2011.
Work has continued this year on plans for the development of the Sheikh Zayed National Museum on the island of Saadiyat, next to Abu Dhabi city. One of several major museums, including a Louvre and a Guggenheim, being planned, it will form the centrepiece of a new cultural complex that is expected to attract thousands of visitors from overseas. Attention has also been paid to the protection of the UAE's fragile environment.
As the UAE enters its fifth decade, it is confident of making further progress in the years to come.