Saudi Arabia and UAE establish new council
JEDDAH - Officials from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates signed a protocol to establish a coordinating council to boost bilateral relations.
The agreement signed, on May 16th, by Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan in Jeddah aims to enhance “shared religious, historical, social and cultural ties between the UAE and Saudi Arabia… out of keenness to consolidate the fraternal relations between them, and their desire to intensify bilateral cooperation through continuous consultation and coordination in many areas,” a statement by the UAE government said.
The council will be headed by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz from the Saudi side and UAE Deputy Prime Minister Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed al-Nahyan.
“The agreement comes within the context of reinforcing cooperation and continuous consultations between the two countries on issues of mutual interest,” said Mohammed bin Abdul Rahman al-Bishr, Saudi ambassador to the UAE, adding that both countries “represent a shining example of fraternity and cooperation in all fields”.
Protocol aside, the agreement comes at a challenging time, not just for the two countries, but the entire Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), of which the two nations are members.
Saudi Arabia and the UAE are going through major government and economic reforms, to diversify their economies, while lessening dependency on the energy sector. The two Gulf states are in the process of introducing measures that would have been unheard of a decade ago, including the introduction of value-added taxes and the cutting of energy subsidies.
Saudi Arabia’s ambitious Vision 2030 plan aims to reduce the kingdom’s dependence on oil and develop and maintain essential industries such as manufacturing and tourism.
The UAE is one of the biggest investors in Saudi Arabia, with investments estimated at more than $9 billion, according to the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA). Trade volume between the two countries exceeded $19 billion, accounting for almost half of the volume of trade exchanged between GCC member states, in 2014.
According to SAGIA Deputy Governor Prince Saud bin Khalid al- Faisal, Saudi investments in the UAE reached about $10 billion, as a result of more than 2,360 kingdom-owned companies based in the country.
The two main political and economic powerhouses of the GCC also share similar views with regards to their regional political outlook. When Lebanon failed to condemn an attack on the kingdom’s missions in Iran during an Arab League meeting earlier this year, the UAE was quick to ban its citizens from travelling to the Hezbollah stronghold, while also downgrading its diplomatic presence in the country.
The kingdom and the UAE are traditional military partners, reaffirmed in 2015 with the UAE’s major role in the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Iran-allied Houthi rebels in Yemen. Additionally, both countries are members of the US-led coalition conducting air strikes on the Islamic State (ISIS) in Syria and Iraq.
According to the newly signed agreement, the coordination council must meet periodically, alternating between the two countries. Joint committees formed by the council also are required to have periodic meetings that alternate between the two states. Saudi Arabia has similar agreements with Egypt, Jordan and Turkey.