I have been to the UAE many times, but this will be my first visit as Foreign Secretary. I am delighted to be here to build on our deep friendship and discuss our shared future. It is a huge privilege to accompany Her Majesty The Queen on the first State visit to the region in more than 30 years.

We want children growing up in the UK to see the Gulf as one of our closest allies – a partner in the economy

William Hague, UK Foreign Secretary

The British Government has made it a top priority to elevate British engagement with Gulf countries. Our relations have deep historical roots, dating back to the days of the protectorate relationships that helped to ensure the independence and sovereignty of the Gulf States and their emergence as nations in their own right. We have long been friends.

But, in recent years, as the Gulf has become a major player on the global economic and political stage, the UK has neglected key relationships. The Coalition Government, from our first days in office, signalled that we are determined to put this right. We are pursuing a distinctive British foreign policy in the Gulf with the objective of intensifying our cultural, educational, commercial, defence and diplomatic links across the board. 

The interests we share with our Gulf partners stretch far beyond a narrow definition of foreign policy. The Gulf States are the UK’s seventh largest export market – bigger than China and India combined. The region is vital to global energy security, with more than 37 per cent of the world’s proven oil reserves. The Gulf States are key partners in the fight against Al-Qaeda and the extremism that has tarnished the image of Islam across the world. And we share common interests in peace, stability and prosperity in the Gulf, the Near East, Yemen, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Horn of Africa.

Britain has much to offer the Gulf States. London remains the leading financial centre in the world and is the major western centre for Islamic finance. More than 160,000 British nationals live and work in the Gulf. The UK’s universities are world class and we are proud that there are some 30,000 students from the Gulf in the UK right now.

Our commitment to elevating such links further is clear. The Prime Minister visited the UAE on one of his first overseas engagements and I recently met with Their Highnesses General Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan and Dr Anwar Mohammed Gergash in the UK last month. Such visits are important for us to discuss foreign policy and defence, but also culture and education. British companies are supporting educational reform and helping to encourage innovation and science and technology collaboration. There are now more overseas campuses of British universities in the UAE than from any other country, while more than 2,800 UAE students studied in the UK last year. I am also delighted that the British Museum has been appointed as a key partner of the Sheikh Zayed National Museum, which is due to open in 2013.

But trade and investment still sit at the heart of our bilateral relationship. The UAE is the UK’s largest export market in the Middle East and we have made a commitment to boost bilateral trade to £12bn ($19bn) by 2015. We want to be the Gulf’s commercial partner of choice; British business and expertise has much to offer the region and British companies have already been heavily involved in establishing major new infrastructure across the Gulf. Examples include iconic buildings such as the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the Yas Island
Formula One circuit and the Sheikh Zayed National Museum.

British companies are providing expertise and consultancy on design, power, water solutions, and IT and communications to Masdar City – a prime example of the ambition and dynamism of the Emiratis. In addition, the UK’s energy businesses and universities are at the forefront of the search for cleaner and more sustainable energy – something we discussed at the recent European Future Energy Forum, supported by the UAE, in London last month.

I want our trade relationship to be one that drives economic growth upwards, in both the UK and the UAE; one that creates jobs and equips both of our populations for the future and that encourages the exchange of knowledge, ideas and people. I want the UK to be viewed as the best place to do business and locate – the first choice as a source of technology, skills and expertise.

We have made strong early progress. The task now is to keep up and build on this new momentum. Our plans are ambitious. But we want children growing up in the UK to see the Gulf as one of our closest allies – a partner in the economy, with shared values. We want children to see the UK as a dynamic partner for the future. These are the bridges that our relationship must be built on and which will fuel new world-class partnership. Her Majesty The Queen’s State visit heralds a further step towards this.