Navigating bilateral horizons

Ambassador Meropi Christofi delves into the progress, potential, and avenues for collaboration between Cyprus and the UAE

By Muzaffar Rizvi

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Published: Wed 27 Dec 2023, 12:28 PM

Last updated: Wed 27 Dec 2023, 4:41 PM

The Republic of Cyprus and the UAE have leaped into a promising path by signing the Joint Committee of Cooperation and Economic and Technical Cooperation deals in 2021.

Seeking to move deeper into this alliance, Meropi Christofi, Ambassador of Cyprus to the UAE, shares insights into the ongoing developments and prospects shaping the political and economic cooperation between these two nations. Excerpts from the interview:

What new initiatives have you taken to promote bilateral ties between the two countries since you assumed office?

Cyprus – UAE relations are at an excellent level, significant bilateral agreements have been signed, while several more are currently under negotiation. At the political level, there is great interest in strengthening cooperation and expressed the hope that it will be possible for The President His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, to visit Cyprus in 2024. The bilateral agreements are mainly related to trade, investment and investor protection issues, and cooperation in the fields of education, health and tourism. An area that will move forward very soon is the cooperation on the issues of artificial intelligence and the upgrading of the government services of Cyprus with e-governance, in which the UAE is a pioneer.

Cyprus' President Nikos Christodoulides speaks during the High-Level Segment for Heads of State and Government session at the United Nations climate summit in Dubai on December 1, 2023. — AFP
Cyprus' President Nikos Christodoulides speaks during the High-Level Segment for Heads of State and Government session at the United Nations climate summit in Dubai on December 1, 2023. — AFP

The commercial activities of the Emirates with Cyprus, are primarily the import of halloumi and olive oil from Cyprus. Cyprus provides services to companies based in the UAE, and trade between the two countries is developed, however, there is always room for strengthening and improving relations.

At the beginning of December, a large exhibition of the construction sector was held in the UAE, in which Cyprus had a strong presence, and in February 2024 there will also be a large exhibition concerning food from all the countries — Gulfood in which Cyprus is also expected to participate.

Cyprus has a lot to learn from the UAE in matters related to energy since the Emirates are pioneer in the field of Renewable Energy Sources (RES). There is ongoing cooperation in this field and interest in further strengthening it.

Interest from the UAE for investments in Cyprus relates to large developments and projects, there is interest in the energy sectors and especially in RES but also in the real estate market.

Cyprus is a bridge between the EU and the UAE. Cyprus is the EU member state that is geographically closest to the UAE and this is a point mentioned by both, Cyprus President Nikos Christodoulidis and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Konstantinos Kombos, in their contacts 'due to the very good relations we wish to be the voice of the Emirates in the EU, in the areas we can help'.

The Embassy of Cyprus in the UAE was opened 15 years ago in Abu Dhabi. The promotion of bilateral relations with the UAE is one of the priorities of foreign policy based on strengthening the presence of Cyprus in the countries of the Middle East and the Gulf region.

Relations between Cyprus and the Emirates, date back several decades, as demonstrated by the official visit of the first President of the Republic of Cyprus, Archbishop Makarios, to the UAE in 1975. Cyprus today has a structured cooperation with the UAE, with a significant expansion of bilateral political, economic and trade ties.

The UAE and Cyprus signed a Joint Committee of Cooperation and Economic and Technical Cooperation deals in 2021. What is the latest progress after signing these two important agreements?

Cyprus has sought to deepen its relations with the GCC countries and is now witnessing a real impetus in the development of political and economic cooperation with these countries, and with the UAE in particular.

The establishment of a Joint Committee for Cooperation and the signing of an Agreement on Economic and Technical Cooperation with the UAE are two important tools which contribute to enhancing our bilateral relations. They set the framework for further expanding Cyprus’s bilateral relations with the UAE in the political and economic sectors. We anticipate that several high-level meetings will take place over the next few months so as to set in full motion the potential created by the above-mentioned agreements.

Is Cyprus keen to initiate Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) talks with the UAE?

Cyprus is formulating a revised model of bilateral investment agreements, aiming at its adoption with the UAE. Since this is an issue of joint competency with the European Commission, Cyprus is currently discussing the finer details of the framework so as to ensure alignment with its EU obligations and to shape the economic environment into a hospitable investment setup providing the necessary protection to investors and safeguarding the interests of the nation.

Cyprus is known for its world-class educational and research centres while the UAE hosts popular global university campuses. Do you think both nations should enhance cooperation on R&D and benefit each other’s experiences?

We are looking forward to the diverse opportunities for collaboration that will emerge across various fields based on the established solid relations with key partners in the region. There is definitely an opportunity for enhancing our collaboration in the fields of R&D. Cyprus has a world-class educational and research centre of excellence with high-quality academic institutions. We are actively seeking collaboration between our universities and centres of excellence as there is significant potential for learning from one another’s experiences. Competent Ministries are already discussing the issue and are committed to taking it further.

Aerial view with Limassol city, Cyprus islands.
Aerial view with Limassol city, Cyprus islands.

Which specific sectors hold the potential to foster collaboration between the two countries? Additionally, do you believe there is untapped potential for cooperation in areas such as renewable energy, tourism, infrastructure, education, startups, health, agriculture, and climate action?

Cyprus’ geographic location at the crossroads of three continents along with its European Union membership, make it an ideal platform for regional cooperation and a reliable partner that has built, over the years, a secure investment environment. Our country has also established itself as a thriving business hub, with a vast array of investment opportunities in key growth sectors of the economy. There are significant opportunities for investment in the energy sector, especially in the fields of hybrid renewable energy sources, energy storage facilities, blue and green hydrogen production and investment in offshore hydrocarbon exploration activities.

The UAE recently hosted COP28. Could you please share details about Cyprus' delegation that participated and its strategic initiatives to support the UAE’s efforts on climate change?

Cyprus’ delegation at COP28 was led by the President Christodoulides. The Ministers of Health, Energy, and Education and the Deputy Ministers of Culture and Shipping participated in thematic days, intervened in side events and held several bilateral meetings on the margins of the Conference. Cyprus supported and signed several of the UAE-led initiatives and declarations, including the declarations on culture-based climate action, sustainable agriculture, resilient food systems and climate action, climate and health, climate relief, recovery and peace and gender-responsive just transition and climate action.

As an European nation closer to the UAE, how do you envision the tourism potential in Cyprus for Emiratis? Any significant initiatives to further promote tourism in the UAE and enhance collaboration between the two nations?

The Deputy Ministry of Tourism of Cyprus is investing in the development of the market from the Gulf countries and the fact that there are several direct flights connecting the UAE with Cyprus, both from Dubai and Abu Dhabi, will significantly increase the flow of visitors between our two countries.

Cyprus is an attractive short-haul destination as it can be reached by a three-hour direct flight from the UAE. It is thus the closest European Country to the UAE, offering a wide variety of experiences for visitors including a rich cultural history, world-renowned archaeological sites, gastronomic treasures and breathtaking landscapes. Moreover, the UAE nationals and holders of multi-entry Schengen visas can travel to Cyprus without a visa.

How does the Cypriot community express its national identity in Dubai?

The UAE is second home to many Cypriots and there are more than seventy Cypriot companies operating in the country. The participation of Cyprus in many commercial exhibitions and business in the UAE contributes to the strengthening of bilateral trade relations.

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