Opinion: Asia’s middle class is reshaping world trade

india middle class

Recent visits to India and China by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, show how fast global trade patterns are changing as Asia’s rising middle class shifts wealth from north to south.

The United Arab Emirates sits at the pivot point of this re-balancing of the global trade flows. In the last decade, India and China have emerged as the UAE’s biggest trading partners — each does about $60 billion in trade with us every year.

This growth is being driven by middle income earners. Their numbers are projected to rise to five billion by 2030, two thirds of them will live in India and China.

The UAE aims to nurture this re-balancing in order to promote our national principles of peace, stability, prosperity, tolerance and unity throughout the region.

Shipping and air traffic booming

As a logistical hub linking Asia to Africa, Europe and the Americas, there is also an obvious economic opportunity for the UAE. Our ports are the busiest and fastest growing in the Middle East. The port of Khalifa just posted a record 32% increase in container volumes last year, most of which emanated from China.

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Air traffic is another telling indicator of the changing direction of global trade flows.

Dubai replaced London as the world’s busiest airport in 2014, but a closer look at where much of this new demand is coming from is revealing. Flights from India to Dubai, for instance, now outnumber flights from there to anywhere else in the world, and Emirates Airlines will grow its service to China by 40% this year.

This unprecedented flow of people and goods is a powerful engine of social progress and an antidote to the forces of instability that feed on poverty.

In this regard, our aims are perfectly aligned with those of India and China. President Xi Jinping’s initiative to enhance trade along the ancient silk route, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “Make in India” plan to expand the country’s manufacturing base, are focused on ensuring stability by expanding prosperity, not only for their people, but for their neighbors — a principle that also lies at the core of our policies.

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The UAE’s commitment to invest billions of dollars in India and China demonstrate the strength of our relations with both countries, but the bonds with each go much deeper than any dollar figure can represent.

Millions of expats have put down roots

Numbering some two million, Indian nationals comprise the biggest share of the UAE’s diverse expatriate population. Chinese nationals also make up a sizeable minority of nearly 200,000. Cultural and trade links with each go back centuries, and today both communities make a significant contribution not only to our economy, but, in an increasingly connected world, to their home economies too.

As part of our strategic vision to diversify our economy, we have created business friendly enterprise zones next to our logistical hubs, attracting thousands of Chinese and Indian businesses. For instance, the Jebel Ali Free Zone Authority is now home to some 800 Indian and 250 Chinese firms. They are drawn to an environment where the ease of doing business is matched only by the unique location that can serve both established markets and open new markets in Africa.

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The roots that the Chinese and Indian communities have laid down in the UAE are helping realize our policy of economic diversification, transitioning the UAE from its historic dependence on oil. In this way our relationship with both nations, anchored by historic ties of friendship, trust and cultural exchange, is truly symbiotic.

While maintaining excellent relations with all our trading partners, our leadership recognizes that by enhancing relations with these great nations we can realize even greater dividends in terms of peace, security and prosperity. Hence we are committed to strengthening still further our cultural, economic and strategic ties with both India and China in the firm belief that they will positively impact not only our countries, but those between and beyond us.

Dr. Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber is a minister of state in the government of the United Arab Emirates. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

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