Dr. Thani Al Zeyoudi, Minister of State for Foreign Trade, said that the UAE’s Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement programme (CEPA) has enjoyed exponential growth in 2023, with three deals implemented, two more signed and awaiting implementation, and four agreed – taking the total number of CEPA partners since the launch of the programme to 10 across four continents.

This, he said, represents a substantial expansion of the UAE’s foreign trade network, and promises to create more opportunity for the country’s private sector in some of the most dynamic economies in the world.

Over the course of a pivotal year for trade, the UAE’s CEPAs with Türkiye, Indonesia and Israel came into force, removing or reducing tariffs, eliminating barriers to trade and opening up market opportunities for exporters and investors.

In addition, CEPAs were signed with the emerging economies of Cambodia and Georgia, both of which will be implemented in the first half of 2024, while terms were also agreed for CEPAs with South Korea, Colombia, Mauritius and Congo-Brazzaville.

The UAE also commenced CEPA negotiations with a number of other countries, including Serbia, Ukraine, Eurasia, Australia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Costa Rica, Kenya, Chile and Vietnam.

The CEPA programme, which also includes the partnership with India that was enacted in May 2022, is projected to increase the UAE’s exports by 33% and contribute more than AED153 billion to the national GDP by 2031 – representing growth of almost 10 percent in 2022.

He also noted that the flagship CEPA programme has secured access to markets that account for nearly 2 billion people, a quarter of the world’s population and will deliver long-term benefits to the UAE economy.

“Trade has always been important to the UAE, a bridge that has connected our products, skills and natural resources to the world and infused our economy with its latest ideas and innovations. As underlined by the ‘We The UAE 2031’ vision, trade is now a cornerstone of our economic development and diversification ambitions.

“In the past 12 months, trade has become a record-setting driver of growth, a pillar of economic policy, a lynchpin of foreign relations and, at the recently concluded COP28, a new front in the battle against climate change.

"Trade is now a central component of the UAE’s domestic success and, as we prepare to host the World Trade Organisation’s 13th Ministerial Conference in February, growing international influence. As we reflect on the achievements of the past year, we believe the UAE has the conviction and the credibility to help shape a new future for global trade.”

Al Zeyoudi also highlighted that, in the first half of 2023, the UAE’s non-oil foreign trade reached an all-time high of AED1.24 trillion – with exports climbing to AED205 billion, another record.

In addition to the success of its CEPA programme, the UAE has further cemented its reputation as a champion of open and inclusive trade in 2023, with a number of new initiatives aimed at facilitating and modernising trade.

In January, the UAE launched the Trade Tech initiative with the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, which is designed to accelerate the digitisation of international supply chains, enhancing customs procedures and improving developing countries' access to the global trading system.

The UAE has also implemented a new Services Export Strategy that is creating new market opportunities for the UAE’s trade in services sector which already represents 2.2% of total global trade in services.

Furthermore, the UAE launched a new re-export programme that will expand the geographical reach of businesses using the UAE’s world-class infrastructure and strategic location as a global logistics hub to re-export goods across the world. The re-export sector in the UAE contributes 6.6% to the UAE’s GDP, creating approximately 1.3 million jobs.

At COP28, the UAE played a key role in securing the inclusion of an official Trade Day for the first time, facilitating a full day of discussions on how the public and private sectors can work together to deliver a cleaner, smarter and more inclusive trading system.

In February 2024, the UAE will be hosting world trade’s topmost decision-making body, the 13th Ministerial Conference of the World Trade Organisation (MC13), which will see member countries, international trade organisations and institutions gather in Abu Dhabi for a pivotal meeting on the future of global trade.

Al Zeyoudi stressed that in his position as Chair of the MC13, he will be advocating the benefits of trade expansion and modernisation and its role in delivering inclusive, sustainable development – especially for developing nations.