UAE, Australia have shared values in promoting religious freedom, interfaith harmony: Minister

The top official visited Abu Dhabi as part of a diplomatic tour of the Middle East to discuss national and regional security issues, ways of strengthening economic and business ties, as well as other partnerships


Rasha Abu Baker

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Photos by Shihab
Photos by Shihab

Published: Fri 16 Jun 2023, 3:26 PM

Last updated: Mon 19 Jun 2023, 3:33 PM

Australia’s Assistant Foreign Minister Tim Watts has reinforced his country's commitment to becoming a cornerstone partner for the UAE across various sectors. He also commended the UAE’s leadership and determination to promote religious tolerance as part of “shared” values that Australia and the UAE enjoy.

"This visit provides an opportunity to discuss how we can grow the Australia-UAE relationship further, including in trade and investment, climate change cooperation, green energy transition, education, and vocational training,” he told Khaleej Times in an exclusive interview.

“I also had a chance to thank the UAE Government for its support in the evacuation of Australians from Sudan,” Watts added. The UAE played a significant role in the evacuation efforts of hundreds of stranded individuals from 26 countries following the outbreak of conflict last April.

The assistant foreign minister also highlighted the shared values between Australia and the UAE, stating: "Like the UAE, Australia has a proud history of promoting religious freedom and interfaith harmony. We commend the UAE’s leadership and determination to promote religious tolerance."

During his tour, Watts paid a visit to the Abrahamic Family House, which fosters peaceful coexistence between different faiths. He explained: "My visit to the Abrahamic Family House is an opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate this commitment, and to express Australia’s solidarity in supporting freedom of religion."

“The Abrahamic House demonstrates peaceful coexistence in action. It is able to foster unique interactions and dialogue between Islam, Christianity, Judaism, and other world cultures,” he added.

The minister visited Abu Dhabi as part of a diplomatic tour of the Middle East, which included Saudi Arabia and Lebanon, to discuss national and regional security issues, ways of strengthening economic and business ties, as well as other partnerships.

Watts went on to highlight that the UAE is a crucial economic partner for Australia, with a bilateral trade value of AUD $7.3 billion (Dh18 billion) in FY 2021-22.

"The UAE is our largest trade and investment partner in the Middle East, with AUD $7.3 billion (Dh18 billion) in two-way trade in FY 2021-22. It is Australia’s 18th largest export market globally for goods and services, and UAE investment in Australia is valued at nearly AUD $13 billion," he noted.

Today, there are more than 300 Australian businesses operating in the UAE, with the two countries sharing robust economic ties in sectors such as building, construction, financial services, agricultural supplies, and training services.

Additionally, national and international security cooperation remains a crucial aspect of the Australia-UAE relationship. “Our two nations have strong defence, aviation, security, and law enforcement cooperation.

“We work together closely in multilateral and regional forums such as UN bodies, and regional groupings such as the Indian Ocean Rim Association,” said Watts.

Furthermore, education connections play an important role in the Australia-UAE relationship, Watts said, noting the three Australian universities operating in the Emirates — Wollongong University, Murdoch University, and Curtin University. “Wollongong was the first private university to establish a campus in Dubai in 1993 and is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year,” he pointed out.

Looking ahead, Watts identified hydrogen, renewable energy, energy storage, critical minerals, and infrastructure as potential areas for mutual investment and collaboration.

The assistant minister also spoke of the opportunity presented by the UAE’s hosting of COP28, saying: "Australia and the UAE are both forging pathways to a decarbonised global economy, based on our extensive renewable energy resources and deep experience in delivering global scale energy projects."

Watts also revealed that Australia is considering a potential Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (Cepa), or free trade agreement, with the UAE, marking a new chapter in the thriving Australia-UAE partnership.


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