Abu Dhabi – MENA Herald: The third review of the UAE’s trade policies and practices under the World Trade Organization (WTO) began yesterday (Wednesday, June 1, 2016) at the organization’s office in Geneva and will last for three days in the presence of fellow WTO member countries.
The UAE delegation is headed by H.E. Eng. Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansouri, UAE Minister of Economy, in the presence of H.E. Ambassador Obaid Salem Al Zaabi, Permanent Representative of the UAE to the United Nations and representatives of other international organizations along with H.E. Abdullah Bin Ahmed Al Saleh, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Economy for Foreign Trade and Industry.
The delegates also include representatives from 14 ministries and federal and local agencies who will answer more than 260 questions and inquiries raised by WTO member countries. The questions are based on two reports, one prepared by the UAE Government, and another prepared by the WTO Secretariat addressing legislations, laws and procedures related to the trade of goods and services in the UAE.
Participants have commended the remarkable progress of the UAE’s trade policy since the previous review, particularly mentioning the success of the country’s economic diversification; flexible trade policy; development of vital sectors such as technology, education, tourism, innovation, and industry and e-commerce; and the increasing contributions of women in the workforce which have been the highest in the region.
The UAE’s third Trade Policy Review (TPR) is being chaired by the Hong Kong Ambassador, as China is the current president of the TPR Body (TPRB).
During his speech to the TPRB, H.E. Eng. Al Mansouri said that the UAE considers the Trade Policy Review of great importance as it provides an invaluable opportunity to share the country’s economic status, trade policies and achievements over the past years with WTO members.
H.E. added that the TPR enables the UAE to comprehensively assess its present policies and plan future directions. He also noted that the TPR mechanism is key to the fulfillment of the WTO’s mission and objectives.
The Minister said that the country has made great strides in achieving sustained economic growth as shown by the decreasing dependence on oil exports as a source of revenue, pointing out that the oil sector’s contribution to the GDP is currently at only 30 percent.
He also shared the tireless efforts of the UAE to lay the foundations for a knowledge-based economy and encourage creativity and innovation. H.E. outlined the UAE Vision 2021 development agenda as well and explained its goal of establishing the UAE as one of the best countries in the world in time for the Golden Jubilee of the Union’s establishment.
He underscored as well the UAE’s commitment to enhancing foreign trade through the adoption and implementation of open policies and procedures in compliance with regional and international obligations. He also discussed the positive impact of the UAE Ministry of Economy’s efforts to sustain the growth of this vital sector in coordination and cooperation with all concerned agencies.
The Minister of Economy reviewed key indicators over the past two years, revealing that the country’s economy grew by 4.6 per cent in 2014 up from 4.3 per cent in 2013, and noting that the current economic downturn has not affected the country’s growth thanks to a diversification policy which continues to reduce dependence on the oil sector.
He also mentioned that foreign direct investment flows rose by around 10 per cent in 2014 to USD 115.6 billion. Reciprocal outward foreign investments also recorded growth at 5 per cent during the year, placing the UAE first in the Middle East region in terms of outbound foreign investments.
The Minister added that the UAE is committed to abiding by the principles of the multilateral trading system and its agreements and obligations. He also highlighted the UAE’s efforts to facilitate the smooth movement of international trade.
H.E. Al Mansouri said that the UAE is a member of both the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the Greater Arab Free Trade Area (GAFTA), adding that it has signed several free trade agreements under the umbrella of the GCC such as one with Singapore which took effect in January 2015 and another with European Free Trade Association (EFTA) states which entered into force in July 2015.
In his speech. H.E. revealed that the UAE has signed 43 agreements related to the encouragement and protection of investments and 92 agreements on the avoidance of double taxation with various countries.
H.E. Al Mansouri assured that the UAE firmly believes in the effectiveness of the multilateral trading system and attaches great importance to the rule-based system. He pointed out that the country has considered all forms of preferential trade arrangements under the framework of the WTO.
H.E. the Minister highlighted the most important directions and the economic vision of the UAE through a review of targeted sectors in line with the National Innovation Strategy launched in October 2014.
H.E. pointed out that, to date, the UAE has issued new laws for the development of the economic infrastructure and investment environment. The most important among these, he said, are the Companies Law and laws covering SMEs and competition. He added that the UAE has formulated a new law on Anti Commercial Fraud in compliance with the WTO’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement.
H.E. Al Mansouri highlighted as well how the UAE’s strategic location, stability and developed infrastructure such as ports, roads and aviation have made it a global commercial hub and a vital trade gateway. He remarked that the UAE was the world’s third largest re-export hub in 2014.
His Excellency also revealed the Dubai Government’s announcement of the world’s largest wholesale city covering 500 million square feet. The city will include banks, cargo centers, markets, warehouses, residential units, among others, and will accommodate as many as 15,000 wholesale traders. Its activities have the potential to boost the value of the global wholesale sector from the current USD 4.3 trillion to USD 4.9 trillion over the next five years.
The Minister stated that the UAE’s development objectives go hand-in-hand with humanitarianism and social development at the local and international levels. A UN report on the funding of humanitarian works places the UAE on top of donor countries in the world based on ratio to national income. From 2010 to 2014 the UAE gave USD 16 billion in total aid to more than 140 countries, accounting for 1.7 per cent of its national income.
During the review, H.E. Roberto Azevedo, WTO Director-General, personally met with H.E. Eng. Al Mansouri along with H.E. Ambassador Al Zaabi and H.E. Al Saleh. They discussed the progress and challenges related to the ongoing Doha Development Agenda negotiations.
The WTO Director-General praised the UAE for being the first Arab country to sign the WTO’s Trade Facilitation Agreement. The group also discussed ways to raise the awareness of the private sector, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SME), on the benefits of the multilateral trading system. The system enables SMEs to gain access to foreign markets through simplified procedures and trade facilitation.
The TPR report is divided into four parts. The first talks about the country’s economic environment, specifically the main features and characteristics of the national economy, foreign partnerships and investments, and the exploration of prospects and developments. The second details the features of the investment and commercial environment, providing highlights of the organizational framework and defining the stages of formulation and execution each trade policy undergoes. The policy goals and the commercial partnerships involved are explained as well.
The third part, meanwhile, clarifies practices and procedures related to the country’s trading policy by identifying those that have a direct effect on imports and exports and trading and production processes. The fourth and last part addresses the aspects of the country’s trading policy per economic sector, describing the trading policy features, tools, and frameworks for the agricultural, mining, power and water, transformative industries and services sectors.
Abdul Salam Al Ali, Director of the WTO’s UAE Office, said that the importance of this procedure lies in the recognition of the trade policies of each country under review and their compatibility with WTO’s transparency-based requirements and agreements. He noted that the review deals with economic development and the trade policy system and other practices including customs and non-customs procedures, tariffs and charges that affect imports. He also addressed the specifications, standards, sanitary, phytosanitary and other measures that impact exports – including support, taxes, and export restrictions and promotions.