The Gulf state, already a hub for global trade, this month announced plans to strengthen trade and economic ties with India, Britain, Turkey and South Korea among others.
“We really do hope that … at least the first ones are going to be concluded within six months to one year. So we are talking about a very aggressive, quick work and quick negotiations,” Minister of State for Foreign Trade Thani Al Zeyoudi told Reuters in an online interview.
He did not identify any country.
The UAE would bilaterally pursue what Al Zeyoudi called comprehensive economic accords with the eight countries on trade, foreign direct investment and sectors like tourism.
The other countries the UAE has said it wants to deepen trade ties with are Ethiopia, Indonesia, Israel and Kenya.
The UAE’s combined annual non-oil trade with the eight countries was close to $70 billion at pre-pandemic levels, the government says. Officials estimate, for example, non-oil trade with India could rise from $40 billion a year pre-pandemic to $100 billion within five years of an economic deal being reached.
The UAE’s push to bolster its status as the Middle East commercial hub comes after it was hit hard by the pandemic with its economy contracting last year, and as it faces increasing economic competition from Saudi Arabia.
Al Zeyoudi said the UAE was focused on strengthening its own economy and, without naming Saudi Arabia, was not paying attention to what others were doing in region, though added that economic competition between states was natural and healthy.
The renewed focus on the economy also follows a reset of its assertive foreign policy that has seen it take steps to mend strained ties with regional power Turkey and neighbour Qatar.
The UAE wants economic and trade relations with those countries, as well as regional power Iran, Al Zeyoudi said.
Al Zeyoudi, who is in the United States, also said he had discussed U.S. tariffs on UAE aluminium and steel imports with U.S. counterparts and that he hoped the matter would be “sorted.”