United Arab Emirates country brief


The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is situated in the Southeast of the Arabian Peninsula, bordering Oman and Saudi Arabia.  In December 1971, the UAE became a federation of six emirates - Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, Ajman, Umm Al-Quwain, and Fujairah, while the seventh emirate, Ras Al Khaimah, joined the federation in 1972.  The capital city is Abu Dhabi, located in the largest and wealthiest of the seven emirates.

Since its Federation in 1971, the UAE has developed rapidly and is now noted for its modern infrastructure, international events and status as a trade and transport hub.  It possesses among the highest per capita incomes in the world.

Political overview

The President of the UAE is His Highness (HH) Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, who is also Ruler of Abu Dhabi Emirate.  The Ruler of Dubai Emirate, HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum, is the Vice-President, Prime Minister and Defence Minister.

The UAE’s federal structure includes a Supreme Council (comprising the Rulers of each Emirate), a Council of Ministers and a semi-appointed Federal National Council with an advisory role.  Each Emirate is governed by its own Ruler, with its own local government, courts and police forces.

The UAE is a member of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the United Nations, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, the Non-Aligned Movement and the World Trade Organization.  The International Renewable Energy Agency, established in 2009, has its headquarters in Abu Dhabi.

Bilateral relations

Bilateral relations between Australia and the UAE are multi-faceted and growing rapidly.  They are underpinned by extensive trade relations, and the UAE is Australia’s largest Middle East trading partner.    The two countries enjoy good defence and law enforcement cooperation, the latter underpinned by agreements on mutual legal assistance in criminal law matters and extradition.   The Agreement between the Government of Australia and the Government of the United Arab Emirates on Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy  entered into force in April 2014, paving the way for Australia to provide Uranium for the UAE’s civilian nuclear energy program. Australia and the UAE signed a Memorandum of Understanding establishing a regular Foreign Minister’s bilateral Dialogue and Senior Officials Talks in May 2013. This bilateral engagement complements Australia’s annual Strategic Dialogue with the GCC.

The Australian Ambassador to the UAE, also with accreditation to Qatar, is based at the Australian Embassy in Abu Dhabi, and the Australian Consulate-General in Dubai is managed by Austrade.  State government offices, representing New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, and Victoria are also based in the UAE.

People to people links

People-to-people contacts have expanded rapidly on the back of the strong growth of direct air links. Currently around133 flights per week operate between the UAE and Australia. Approximately 16,000 Australians live and work in the UAE.  In 2013, over 900 Emiratis were enrolled to study in Australia.  

Economic overview

The UAE is the Middle East’s second largest economy, after Saudi Arabia, and one of the wealthiest countries in the region on a per capita basis.  Its estimated GDP in 2013 was US$396.2 billion, a real GDP growth rate of around 4.8 per cent.  

The UAE has six per cent of the world’s oil reserves and the seventh largest proven natural gas reserves. Oil and gas exports were US$118 billion in 2012 (US$75 billion in 2010). Since 2008, the UAE has used liquefied natural gas imports to meet domestic demand. In the medium term, oil and gas (which account for over two-thirds of exports and the bulk of government revenue) will continue to underpin the UAE’s economy.

The UAE population of about eight million depends substantially on its expatriate workforce, which made up about 88 per cent of the workforce and 80 per cent of the population in 2012.  Free trade zones attract foreign investors by offering full ownership and zero taxes.

The government has increased spending on job creation and infrastructure expansion including in preparation for hosting a world Expo in Dubai in 2020. The UAE is also opening up utilities to greater private sector involvement.  Investment income is substantial and provides a further element to economic activity.

Abu Dhabi Emirate, which has the vast majority of oil and gas reserves in the UAE, has made significant investments into establishing aerospace, nuclear power, defence, information technology (micro-processing), petrochemical and clean-tech industries – the latter most obviously represented by the multibillion-dollar initiative to establish “Masdar City”, a zero-carbon city outside Abu Dhabi.  Abu Dhabi is also investing heavily in educational institutions, such as the Sorbonne and New York University campuses, and cultural and sporting attractions such as the Formula One racing track, Ferrari theme park, and planned Louvre Gallery and Guggenheim Museum, to diversify the economy away from oil and encourage tourism.

Dubai Emirate has diversified into the tourism, exhibitions, events, ICT, re-export and financial sectors.  Taking advantage of its position near the head of the Gulf, it has consolidated its historical reputation as a regional entrepôt.  Dubai has developed luxury hotels, large port facilities (including Jebel Ali) and a range of free trade zones to attract both manufacturing and services industries.

In the medium term, the UAE economy will continue to rely on its huge oil and gas reserves – which account for over two-thirds of exports and the bulk of government revenue – to underpin its economic development.  However, the UAE is also developing a civil nuclear energy program and plans to build four nuclear power reactors by 2020 with the first scheduled to come on-line by 2017.

Trade and Investment

Australia’s merchandise trade with the UAE increased more than 25 per cent year-on-year in 2013 to nearly $6.4 billion, making the UAE our 15th largest merchandise trading partner, and largest Middle East partner. Australian exports amounted to $2.6 billion in 2013, an increase of more than 25 per cent from the previous year, with the UAE Australia’s 13th largest export market. Exports were dominated by alumina, motor vehicles, meat, canola, and edible foodstuffs. Australian imports totalled close to $4 billion, a near 25 per cent increase from 2012. Imports were largely comprised of petroleum products.

Services trade is an increasingly important component of the commercial relationship, including construction, financial and professional services, tourism and education.  Education is seen as an area of potential growth, with Australian institutions active in the UAE market for over 20 years.  However, the number of UAE students studying in Australia remains relatively small at just over 900 enrolments in 2013.

Australia's commercial profile in the UAE is significant, with over 360 Australian companies based there.  There is an increasing presence of Australian companies, institutions and capabilities, including in steel trading, building, construction and financial services, banking services, materials and equipment, agricultural supplies and services, industrial minerals, dairy products, marine manufacturing, education and training services, sports and recreation, health services, livestock, oil field supplies, courier and freight services.  Many use Dubai as a regional base, in view of its transport, financial and communications infrastructure. UAE entities hold significant investments in Australia, including in the agribusiness, tourism, health and aged care and resources sectors.

In 2013, Australia’s investment in the UAE was $1.3 billion according to ABS data. Total UAE investment in Australia in 2013 was estimated at $17.2 billion according to ABS data. The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), the world’s second largest sovereign wealth fund, became Australia’s largest hotel owner in late 2013, acquiring 31 Accor-branded hotels. It has also invested in ports and the Queensland Motorway project. Other UAE sovereign wealth funds also have assets and are examining other investment opportunities in Australia.

Information on doing business and opportunities in the United Arab Emirates

High level visits

April and May 2014: Minister for Trade and Investment, the Hon Andrew Robb AO MP, visited the UAE.

October 2013: Prime Minister, the Hon Tony Abbott MP, and Minister for Defence, Senator the Hon David Johnston met the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, HH Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, in the UAE.

September 2013: Queensland Premier Campbell Newman .

May 2013: Then Foreign Minister Senator Bob Carr visited for the inaugural Joint Committee for Cooperation meeting.

February 2013: Louise Asher, then Victorian Minister for Innovation, Services, Small Business, Tourism and Major Events led a business ‘super mission’.

January 2013: Then Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs The Hon Richard Marles MP represented the Prime Minister at Abu Dhabi Sustainability Week.

April 2012: Then Governor-General, HE Dame Quentin Bryce visited the UAE.

April 2012: Then Defence Minister, the Hon Stephen Smith visited the UAE ;

January and February 2012: Then Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the Hon. Senator Joe Ludwig visited the UAE.

April and November 2012: Then Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, the Hon. Anthony Albanese visited the UAE.

May 2012: The Hon Barry O'Farrell, then Premier of NSW visited the UAE.

June 2012: Then Minister for Foreign Trade, HE Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi visited Australia.

February 2012: Louise Asher, then Victorian Minister for Innovation, Services, Small Business, Tourism and Major Events led a business ‘super mission’.

February 2012: Donald Terrence (Terry) Redman, then Western Australian Minister for Agriculture and Food visited the UAE.

October 2011: Foreign Minister, HH Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan addressed CHOGM Foreign Ministers in Perth as a guest of the then Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Hon Kevin Rudd.

Last Updated: 18 August 2014