Two major investments since our last interview – Al Dahra’s acquisition of PKB and the privatisation of the Port of Novi Sad by DP World – are important for both the United Arab Emirates and for Serbia. However, bearing in mind that these two Emirate companies are present in many countries of the world, their significant positive impact is indeed international. I hope this positive trend will continue – Mubarak Saeed Ahmed Burshaid Al Dhaheri.
Cooperation between the UAE and Serbia, which exists in many domains, is seen by Ambassador Mubarak Saeed Ahmed Burshaid Al Dhaheri as confirmation that a true alliance has been forged between the two countries in a short period of time. In this interview for CorD Magazine, the Ambassador announces the strengthening of relations in the areas of trade, tourism and industrial production, but also in the field of energy efficiency and the production of energy from alternative, renewable sources, which will be the concern of the Intergovernmental Commission.
The UAE ambassador says that he’s surprised by the lack of public confidence in UAE investments and business arrangements made by Serbian companies there, insisting that a “small and brief internet search, can check the international credibility and success” of the UAE companies that are investing in Serbia.
Your Excellency, how would you characterise relations between the UAE and Serbia?
The UAE and Serbia have had a very noteworthy development of diplomatic and economic relations in a very short period of time. The leadership of both countries at the highest level definitely provided the incentive, but an even more important fact is how that incentive has been really utilised in recent years and contributed to in the best possible way by participants of both our public and private sectors. This has enabled the UAE and Serbia to become true allies in many different fields. In my opinion, our countries really do nurture exceptionally friendly relations.
You arrived in Belgrade last year when Serbia also appointed its first ambassador with permanent residence in the UAE. What does the opening of representative offices mean for relations between the two countries?
Even though the role of embassies has changed in the modern age, they are still very significant instruments of governments in many areas. Apart from the obvious fact that the opening of representative offices means that countries have direct diplomatic relations, their importance is huge in many other matters.
Firstly, and in my opinion most importantly, is getting the chance for more detail and a clearer understanding of political, economic, social, or any other interests, or an official position of the country where an ambassador is accredited.
This is why having an ambassador on the ground in a foreign country enables any government to develop a more comprehensive picture of their counterpart. An ambassador is a channel that contributes to more precise communication between two countries, in terms of advising their policies by closely representing their country’s national interests in the country of accreditation, but also representing the interests of the host country to his government back home, simultaneously having both advisory and mediation roles.
Additionally, embassies and ambassadors are extremely important when it comes to organising visits of high-ranking officials and business delegations, where local knowledge contributes a lot to the success of these visits. And, of course, embassies are of great importance for assisting their citizens when abroad – whether the reason for their journey is private, tourist or business. This is really very important in the case of our two countries, because – as you know – the number of travellers and exchanged visits is increasing year by year.
In particular, we agreed to further cooperate in the fields of trade, tourism, investment, industry, energy efficiency, renewable energy and alternative fuel, and, of course, agriculture
Serbia’s ambassador to the UAE says that relations between the two countries are exceptional despite political disagreement on the stance regarding Kosovo, which is a very important issue for Serbia. Do you consider that space exists for the UAE to shift its approach to date, which has been to fully support unilaterally declared independence?
Considering that the International Court of Justice at The Hague in 2008 ruled that the Kosovo Declaration of Independence did not violate general international law, because it did not contain a “ban on the Declaration of Independence”, Kosovo was recognised in accordance with the United Arab Emirates’ support for its legitimate right of self-determination.
I really hope that both sides will be able to reconcile their differences and find the best possible solution to the ongoing situation, as this will further contribute to the stability of the Balkans. The UAE is very committed to developing bilateral relations with both Kosovo and Serbia. This is what I can state at this moment.
In one of your first statements in Serbia, you said that you’d been instructed in your country to work on finding opportunities for new joint projects with Serbia. You’ve identified new opportunities for cooperation in the fields of energy and construction. Have any plans already been made in this regard?
Small and large scale projects are constantly active, many of which have already been launched and some even completed. What I can definitely say is that all projects are planned very carefully and strategically from both sides, and both sides are constantly searching for new opportunities.
We can mention two major investments since our last interview – the acquisition of PKB by Al Dahra and the privatisation of the port of Novi Sad by DP World. These two projects are important for both the United Arab Emirates and Serbia, but bearing in mind that these two Emirate companies are present in many countries of the world – a significant positive impact is indeed international. I hope this positive trend will continue.
Are the effects of the work of the Joint Committee on Business and Economic Cooperation evident, and what will be its main aims?
We held the first session of the Joint Committee in Belgrade in April this year, in the mutual desire to strengthen and deepen friendly relations between the Republic of Serbia and the United Arab Emirates at all levels and in all spheres. The sides informed each other about the positive trends of economic policy implemented by the governments of both countries.
In order to enhance trade and economic relations, both sides discussed issues of common interest, focusing on measures of support for and expansion of traditional mutually beneficial economic relations. In particular, we agreed to further cooperate in the fields of trade, tourism, investment, industry, energy efficiency, renewable energy and alternative fuel, and, of course, agriculture.
We agreed to facilitate the further intensification of cooperation at the business level, including the exchange of information on holding specialised and sector-specific exhibitions and other business events, as well as the need for comprehensive support to the economic structures of both countries in order to expand the capacities of the industrial sector.
In order to ensure a wider and more meaningful presentation of tourism opportunities, attract greater number of tourism companies to cooperate, and to increase the volumes of tourist flows between the Republic of Serbia and the United Arab Emirates, we agreed to exchange information regarding the holding of tourism events in both countries, as well as presentation materials about the tourism possibilities of Serbia and the United Arab Emirates.
In the case of agricultural cooperation, the Serbian side proposed consideration of the possibility of increasing the supply to the UAE of livestock products – including meat and dairy products – products of the processing and food industry – including flour mill products, confectionery, oil and fat products – as well as organic products.
We’ve agreed to exchange lists of products that can be exported to the markets of both countries, but also to intensify cooperation in veterinary and phytosanitary fields. Several agreements were signed on this occasion to support the aforementioned areas. We are looking forward to meeting for our next session in 2020, in the UAE.
You were awaited in Serbia by a large number of works and investments by UAE companies that had already been launched. How would you rate investments realised to date – in Air Serbia, agriculture and energy, and construction of the Belgrade Waterfront development?
First of all, I would like to point out that each of the specific projects you’ve mentioned has their own boards of directors and expert teams who manage them. Having said that, I can only point out that, although I am an ambassador, I cannot comment on the business performances of these companies in this way.
What I can say is that, in my frequent conversations with representatives of these companies, I can truly note their positive impressions and a strong desire to continue strengthening cooperation. This is the exact reason why, in my opinion, I can say that I would give a very high rating to all of our joint projects.
The works that connect the UAE and Serbia – such as the Air Serbia-Etihad partnership, the privatisation of PKB, the construction undertaking on the Sava riverbank in Belgrade – receive poor ratings among sections of the public. Critics primarily resent the lack of operational transparency. How do you respond to such concerns?
This is still one of the few situations that have been really surprising to me since I arrived at my mission to Serbia. I cannot say that the insecurity of a certain part of the Serbian public was not somewhat understandable to me at the beginning – that is, when our relations had just been established. People tend to be blind-sided and scared by the unknown.
However, today I really don’t see the reason for that any longer. Each of the aforementioned projects is already at an advanced stage, while at the same time the UAE, as a country, and its people are not unknown to Serbia today. This is especially applicable in the case of UAE companies that have completed mergers or privatisations of certain companies in Serbia, because truly, with just a small and brief internet search, one can check the credibility and success of these same companies in the international market, especially the success and contribution of their investments in some of the world’s most developed countries, whose sources your public may consider as the most reliable.
I sincerely hope that there will be fewer and fewer people with a negative attitude, because, I repeat – through the acquiring of just slightly more thorough information about these businesses, or about our country on the international scene, the public can find answers that would dispel those concerns.
We’ve agreed to exchange lists of products that can be exported to the markets of both countries, but also to intensify cooperation in veterinary and phyto-sanitary fields
You’ve stated that the UAE led the world in foreign aid donations in 2017 and 2018. One donation from your country resulted in the recent opening of a textile factory in Raška. Are you planning another donation in Serbia?
The UAE Embassy Belgrade – of course on behalf of our Government and its humanitarian organisations, is really constantly providing assistance, in every way we can, to the institutions and people of Serbia. This is also the international trend that we will continue nurturing in the future, with God’s help.
Of course, not all donations have a value like the one you mentioned, but they are certainly equally important to their recipients. Although at this moment I really do not have information that a donation of this scale is planned – I am sure that assistance to Serbia will continue, and this is certainly not the end.
An amended visa protocol came into force in May that has reciprocally abolished travel visas for citizens of the UAE and Serbia. What effect do you expect from this visa-free regime between the two countries?
Although the procedure for obtaining visas for Serbian citizens who wanted to travel to the United Arab Emirates was not really complicated, I’m sure that the moment of the entry into force of this decision was indeed positive news for all Serbian citizens. Also, considering that most flights to and from Asia and Australia take place via Abu Dhabi International Airport thanks to the joint partnership of Air Serbia and Etihad – this was definitely a facilitating circumstance for anyone in transit who chooses to enter and briefly visit the UAE before continuing their journey – which has really been a frequent situation to date. In any case, given the pace of modern life and very frequent last-minute tourist and business trips to the UAE or Serbia, I think this is really a great news and a relief to everyone.
Your counterpart, Serbian Ambassador to the UAE Stanimir Vukićević, has spoken about the potential of tourism and strengthening cultural ties between the two countries. What is required to increase mutual interest between two nations?
The fields of culture and tourism are indeed specific areas because there must be direct and personal contact between the peoples of the two countries to ensure their proper development and progress.
A lot of work has been done by the UAE Embassy in Belgrade and the Serbian Embassy in Abu Dhabi, whether that relates to the organising of different exhibitions, meetings and conferences in both countries, or in the promotion of some very important international events, where institutions and individuals from the UAE and Serbia were encouraged to participate and expand their activities by exchanging experiences and practises with their counterparts or possible business partners.
This has led to the intensification of exchanges of visits of officials, artists, athletes and all other representatives of different fields of importance – contributing greatly to the development of cultural and any other form of cooperation.
Serbian citizens travelling to the UAE could be concerned about the security situation in your region, which has been referred to of late as the “key geopolitical point of the region” and a potential hotspot for the global crisis. How do you see the development of the situation in the Gulf of Oman following incidents in the Strait of Hormuz?
Considering that the situation in the region really requires a lot of time to be discussed properly properly, I would avoid commenting on it at this point. However, what I can say with a lot of pride, and certainty to all Serbian citizens, is that the United Arab Emirates – thanks to our wise leadership – is one of the safest destinations in the world. I sincerely urge them to see and experience it for themselves.