Historic development: Israel, UAE sign free trade deal

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free trade deal
Israel and UAE signed Free trade deal. Source: Reuters.com

Dubai (Reuters): In a historic development, Israel signed a free trade deal with the United Arab Emirates on Tuesday, its first big trade accord with an Arab state that reduces or removes tariffs and overtime targets, lifting annual bilateral trade to more than $10 billion.

The pact was signed in Dubai by Israel’s Minister of Economy, and Industry, Orna Barbivai and her counterpart, UAE Minister of Economy, Abdulla bin Touq Al-Marri, after months of negotiations.

In a tweet, Israel’s ambassador to the Emirates, Amir Hayek, wrote, “Done!” replying to his earlier tweet in which he mentioned that the two countries would sign the free trade deal in the coming hour.

Mohamed Al Khaja, the UAE ambassador to Israel, also said that the agreement was an “unprecedented achievement”.

“Businesses in both countries will benefit from faster access to markets and lower tariffs as our nations work together to increase trade, create jobs, promote new skills and deepen cooperation. Thank you, Ohad Cohen, for your efforts!” he wrote.

Tariffs will be eliminated on 96% of goods, with the UAE predicting the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement would boost bilateral trade to more than $10 billion a year within five years.

It is pertinent to mention the timing of the agreement, as it has been signed amid escalating Israeli-Palestinian violence.

The UAE foreign ministry on Monday condemned what it called a “storming” of the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem by “extremist settlers under the protection of Israeli forces.”

That appeared to refer to visits by thousands of Jews, who revere the site as a vestige of their two ancient temples, on the day marking Israel’s capture of Jerusalem’s Old City in a 1967 war. Some of the visitors prayed and held up Israeli flags – resulting, police said, in their removal.

The foreign ministry, in the written statement, also asked “Israeli authorities to take responsibility for reducing escalation and ending all attacks and practices that lead to the continuation of tensions while underscoring the need to exercise maximum restraint to avoid further instability.”

The same day invited media were told they could no longer attend the signing of the trade deal. No reason was given for the sudden change.

Israel’s Barbivai told Israeli radio on Tuesday she had heard “nothing out of the ordinary” about the Al Aqsa violence so far during her visit to the UAE.

President of the UAE-Israel Business Council Dorian Barak said the trade agreement defined tax rates, imports and intellectual property, which would encourage more Israeli companies to set up offices in the UAE, particularly in Dubai.

The council predicts there will be almost 1,000 Israeli companies working in or through the UAE by the end of the year doing business with South Asia, the Far East and the Middle East.

“The domestic market doesn’t represent the entirety of the opportunity. The opportunity is really set up in Dubai, as many companies have, in order to target the broader region,” Barak told Reuters by phone.
Emirati-Israeli trade reached $1.2 billion in 2021, according to official Israeli data.

Ahead of the signing of the free trade deal, Israel’s economy ministry had said the accord would remove tariffs on food, agriculture, cosmetics, medical equipment and medicine.

“Together we will remove barriers and promote comprehensive trade and new technologies, which will form a solid foundation for our common path, will contribute to the well-being of citizens and make it easier to do business,” Israel’s Barbivai said on Monday.

For oil-rich UAE, the deal with Israel is its second bilateral free trade agreement after signing a similar accord with India in February. It is in bilateral trade talks with several other countries, including Indonesia and South Korea.

The UAE has been aggressively pursuing these deals in a bid to strengthen its economy and status as a major business hub following the hit it took from the coronavirus pandemic.

Israel and the UAE established ties in September 2020 in the US-brokered deal that broke with decades of Arab policy that had called for a Palestinian state before ties with Israel.

Bahrain and Morocco also recognised Israel in the same year.

Read: Israel and UAE agree ‘milestone’ free trade deal