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Bilateral relations between Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates
The United Arab Emirates UAE is by far Switzerland’s most important trading partner in the Middle East. Initially economic in nature, cooperation has gradually been extended into the political, cultural and scientific spheres. Diplomatic relations have existed between Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates since 1973.
Diplomatic relations between the UAE and Switzerland, traditionally good, have in recent years been further developed by an increasing frequency of visits at the diplomatic level. This trend was further strengthened with the opening of a UAE embassy in Bern in the autumn of 2011 and the signing of a visa exemption agreement covering diplomatic and special passports as well as a double taxation agreement. At the same time bilateral cooperation has been developed beyond the economic sphere to include political, security, cultural, sports, academic and research matters.
The Emirati-Swiss Friendship Forum launched in November 2010 provides a platform for such exchanges at all levels. The Forum includes regular workshops, discussion rounds, research days and art exhibitions.
Cooperation has become increasingly important for the promotion of renewable sources of energy. Since 2008 Abu Dhabi has been home to an annual “World Future Energy Summit”, at which Switzerland has each year been represented by a high-ranking official delegation as well as by representatives of Cleantech companies and Swiss universities, all under the same roof at the Swiss Pavilion.
Another important factor in bilateral relations is tourism. Switzerland is a favourite destination for visitors from the UAE. The Emirates have likewise become a place of growing interest for Swiss tourists.
Between 2008 and 2011 there have been more than 60 visits to the UAE by high ranking Swiss individuals and delegations. The highlight among these was the first official visit to the UAE by a President of the Swiss Confederation in May 2009.
The UAE is by far the most important trading partner for Switzerland in the Middle East today. The main exports are precious metals, watches, jewellery, machines and pharmaceutical products. The main imports are precious stones, precious metals and jewellery. Switzerland has a regular balance of trade surplus with the UAE.
In addition to these traditionally strong sectors several specialised Swiss firms have in recent years tapped new potential in areas such as public transport, renewable sources of energy, insulation expertise, water supply and healthcare.
Economic cooperation is promoted with the help of a number of treaties: an agreement on the mutual promotion and protection of investments came into force in 1990, and a double taxation agreement was signed on 6 October 2011. Ratification of a free trade agreement between the EFTA countries and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is still pending.
The opening of a branch of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL) in Ras Al Khaimah in May 2009 signalled the beginning of a new era of cooperation between Switzerland and the UAE in the educational sector. The “EPFL Middle East” offers interdisciplinary courses in renewable energy technology and sustainability up to the Master’s and Doctorate levels().
The first ever UAE-Swiss Research Day was held at the EPFL in the summer of 2011 in the framework of the Emirati-Swiss Friendship Forum, with some 100 students from both countries attending to present their research projects.
There are 1,926 Swiss living in the United Arab Emirates (Swiss Abroad Statistics 2010).
The Swiss Art Gate UAE founded by Kurt Blum of Switzerland promotes cultural exchanges between the Emirates and Switzerland, organising exhibitions and cultural projects in the UAE.
Relations between the Gulf States and Switzerland developed in the wake of the region’s spurt of economic growth following the oil boom of the 1960s.
The United Arab Emirates was recognised in 1971 shortly after its founding. Bilateral relations were initiated in 1973. In 1976 Switzerland opened a chamber of commerce in Abu Dhabi under the management of an economic delegation, and in 1982 this was upgraded to an embassy headed by a chargé d’affaires.
In response to the rapid economic development of the UAE Switzerland opened a consulate in Dubai in 1987, and in 2000 this was elevated to the rank of a consulate general. In 2005 a Swiss Business Hub was opened in Dubai to cover the entire GCC region.
With the accreditation of a defence attaché in the UAE (and in Saudi Arabia) in 2009 the security policy dimension has assumed greater importance in bilateral relations.