Relations between Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are multifaceted. The focus is on sustainable development, the economy, finance, science and new technologies, peace and security policy and human rights.
On 14 October 2020 the Federal Council adopted a specific strategy for the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA Strategy) for the 2021–24 period. It identifies five thematic priorities: peace, security and human rights; migration and protection of people in need; sustainable development; economic affairs, finance, science; and digitalisation and new technologies.
These priorities are weighted differently across the various regions and countries. In the Arabian Peninsula and Iran, priority thematic areas for Switzerland are regional stability and security, economic and financial cooperation, and sustainable natural resource management.
Switzerland also wishes to support the Gulf countries in their efforts to professionalise their international cooperation, especially with regard to South-South cooperation and compliance with international development standards in the areas of climate change, health and water management.
Switzerland's priorities in the UAE
The MENA Strategy 2021–24 identifies the following priorities for Switzerland in the UAE:
1. Sustainable development
Switzerland promotes responsible business conduct in its private sector with a gold trade initiative.
2. Economic affairs, finance and science
Switzerland is working to improve market access for Swiss companies, also in the field of finance. In particular, it is promoting itself as a tourist destination in the growth market of the Gulf states (Gulf Hub).
The UAE is Switzerland's most important trading partner in the Middle East. The annual trading volume is just under CHF 20 billion. Switzerland mainly exports precious stones and metals, watches, jewellery and pharmaceutical products to the UAE, and mainly imports precious stones, precious metals and jewellery from the country.
They have concluded agreements on the promotion and mutual protection of investments (1998), scheduled air services (1999), reciprocal visa-free access for holders of a diplomatic or service passport (2010) and double taxation (2011). A free trade agreement between EFTA and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states entered into force in 2014.
3. Digitalisation and new technologies
Switzerland is using existing instruments to link up research institutes at home and in the UAE. It supports start-ups and companies at home that intend to use the economic diversification of the UAE as an opportunity to introduce new technologies developed in Switzerland. It is also supporting the continuation of the EPFL postgraduate project in the UAE.
The opening of an EPFL research centre in Ras Al Khaimah in May 2009 marked the beginning of a promising partnership between Switzerland and the UAE in the field of education. EPFL Middle East offers interdisciplinary master's and PhD programmes in renewable energy and sustainability.
Researchers and artists who are citizens of the UAE can apply for Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships from the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI).
4. Peace, security and human rights
Switzerland is launching a regional initiative to promote dialogue between the Arabian Peninsula states and Iran. Switzerland uses major events such as the 2020 World Expo (rescheduled for 2021) and its close cooperation with the private sector to promote human rights with initiatives in the area of labour migration.
Other areas of cooperation
Expo 2021 in Dubai is a major event for both the UAE and Switzerland. Switzerland was the first country to announce its participation at the world expo. Since then, more than 190 countries have committed to joining in. The theme of Expo 2021 is Connecting Minds, Creating the Future. Some 25 million visitors are expected – 30% from the UAE and 70% from other countries – making it the first event of its kind to attract more international than local visitors. Expo 2021 will be open for six months from 1 October 2021 to 31 March 2022.
The Swiss pavilion will be hosting Swissnex mobile showcasing Switzerland as a leading country in education, research and innovation. The programme will cover the weekly topics of the Expo 2021 in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Swiss universities, start-ups and cutting-edge companies will present their research and products via a range of small-scale exhibitions and presentations for the general public in the exhibition arena of the pavilion.
The aim of Swissnex mobile is not only to promote the expertise of Swiss partners but to connect them with their counterparts in the UAE and wider region.
Switzerland regularly participates in events to promote the French language as part of the International Day of La Francophonie and also the Italian culture week (Settimana della Lingua Italiana nel Mondo). It also organises various cultural events.
Swiss nationals in the United Arab Emirates
In 2020, there were 3,399 Swiss citizens living in the UAE.
History of bilateral relations
Relations between Switzerland and the UAE developed in the 1960s as the region experienced an economic boom driven by increased oil production.
Switzerland recognised the UAE in 1971.
In 1976 it opened a trade office in Abu Dhabi which was converted into an embassy in 1982.
A consulate was opened in Dubai five years later, which has since been upgraded to a consulate general responsible for trade relations with the UAE. Consular matters are handled by the Swiss embassy in Abu Dhabi.
A Swiss Business Hub was opened in Dubai in 2005. Switzerland also has a defence attaché, a SDC regional development adviser and a Swiss Tourism representation in the UAE.