The traditionally good relations between the United Arab Emirates and Serbia have recently entered a new phase of intensive cooperation, founded in common goals and friendship. We discuss the perspective of this relationship and the most important threads that bind the two countries with His Excellence the Ambassador of UAE to Serbia, Mr. Mubarak Saeed Aldhaheri.
His Excellence the Ambassador of UAE to Serbia, H.E. Mr. Mubarak Saeed Aldhaheri sees Belgrade as a friendly city with a dynamic ambience, interesting heritage and numerous potentials. This makes the vision of the relationship between the two countries, linked by many joint projects, all the clearer.
Diplomatic relations between Serbia and UAE are traditionally good. Which projects would you point out as most successful and most meaningful?
UAE and Serbia had a very noteworthy development of diplomatic and economic relations in very short time. Leadership of both countries on highest level definitely was the incentive, but even more important fact is how that incentive in previous years was indeed exploited and contributed in the best possible way by participants of our both – public and private sectors. This enabled UAE and Serbia to become true allies in many different fields launching many successful projects over the past couple of years. Having in mind their total size, value and of course the impact they had and will continue to have on our economies and the quality of our lives in future, I will mention strategic partnership of „JAT Airways“ and „Etihad“, then joint venture of „Eagle Hills“ and Serbian Government on „Belgrade Waterfront“ project, also „Čibuk 1 Wind Farm“ – the largest utility-scale wind project in Serbia and the Western Balkans to this date owned by „Tesla Wind“ and led by „Masdar“ – Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy company, project supporting Serbia’s socio-economic development by enabling clean production of electricity while minimizing environmental impacts of its energy sector and same time modernizing it in line with EU regulations, then, acquisition of majority of stakes in „Rudnap Agrar“ by „Al Dahra“, and „Zobnatica“ by „Elite Agro LLC“, both agricultural companies from Abu Dhabi, where Governments on both sides recognized the opportunities that can benefit our nations – for Serbia to modernize its irrigation system and enhance its agricultural production and export, while UAE was seeking to bolster its food security and diversify its food supplies. I am positive we will have many more strong, advantageous, and progressive partnerships in the years ahead.
If we are talking about tourism in Serbia, experts agree that its development was significantly contributed by acquisition of Air Serbia by Etihad Airways. From UAE point of view, country that is investing in tourism development for many years now, in which field / sector of tourism could Serbia work on and improve it in future period in order to continue with its image of attractive destination?
Strategic partnership between our national airline carriers, that from Serbia’s point of view aimed at improving its airline industry, was an excellent decision, and it certainly had an impact on tourism too. So, talking as someone coming from UAE where the importance of tourism for national economy is very well recognized and embraced, my opinion is that Serbia should first of all continue investing in development of its infrastructure in order to increase its income from tourism.
Tourism makes a major contribution to global economy and it’s a key part of many country’s economic development strategies, while from the other hand – aviation plays a central role in supporting these strategies. According to „World Travel & Tourism Council“ over 54% of international tourists now travel by air. Including direct, indirect, and induced effects, air transport globally supports 36 million jobs within tourism, and with its profit contributes almost $900 billion a year to world’s GDP. So, by allying with „Etihad Airways“, Serbian Government enabled access for millions of foreigners to visit Serbia through a combined network of over 400 destinations across 6 continents. This without doubt plays enormous role in tourism development and it’s supporting sustainable economic growth. Making easier and more comfortable for foreign citizens to travel to Serbia by air, and through Serbia by land, with opportunity to offer them adequate accommodation and leisure facilities should be a primary goal of this country.
You have to start from that. Your natural and cultural environment is very rich and beautiful and certainly has a lot to offer, also same as UAE, you accept and nourish multiculturalism and your people are welcoming and magnificent hosts, so no need to say it is definitely attractive for tourists to experience Serbia, but infrastructure it’s necessary to support all this in order to deliver wider economic growth.
Due to our investments in infrastructure – airlines and airports, local roads and transportation companies that can take you to all of our cities, or our mountains, beaches and desert, opening internationally known cultural venues and museums such as „Louvre Abu Dhabi“ or sonly to be launched „Guggenheim Abu Dhabi“, opening entertainment and theme parks, zoos, shopping malls, and development of the entire areas as new tourism destinations in our country, resulted UAE having in 2016, after thoroughly analyzing direct spending impacts – such as visitor exports, domestic travel and tourism spending, Government’s individual spending for development of cultural or recreational services, as well as indirect and induced impacts – such as capital investments, Government’s collective spending for tourism promotion, administrative and other public services – tourism and travel sector totally contributing UAE’s national GDP by 12.1%, with strong expectance to grow in future.
I truly hope economic and financial situation of Serbia will also allow more significant investments in its infrastructure and direct investment in tourism sector in order to support its growth, and take advantage of its remarkable potentials. And very soon we have new world’s exhibition coming in UAE – Expo 2020 where Serbia is also one of the participants, so I don’t see a better possibility to present to the world all potentials, achievement and treasures of your nation. It will be a great honor welcoming you there.
Belgrade Waterfront is one of the most attractive projects in Serbia in recent history. What is the significance of this Project for Serbia and Belgrade on your opinion?
Talking first in general about land development and about real estate sector, we have to acknowledge that commercial property makes a major contribution to economic growth, job creation and sustainability, pumping almost €400 billion in Europe’s economy only, providing in the same time better places to live and work. Real estate in Europe employs almost 4 million people, meaning that it offers more job than for example automotive and telecommunication sector combined. This is something that is quite common in UK, France, and Germany, so, there are a lot of countries trying to make themselves interesting to local of foreign investors from this sector. Serbia achieved this goal by attracting interested investor who will work together with Government on its efforts to improve city’s infrastructure, develop land, and transform until now unused area to a place attractive for people to live, work and enjoy their free time in, creating viable community represented by vibrant mix of residential and office buildings, shops, restaurant and culture. In Europe – like Serbia, investments in this field are primarily made by private sector rather than public, regardless how strong is the country’s economy. Government of Serbia made a good move by entering this joint venture with „Eagle Hills“, and managed to become a partner that will have long term benefit from this business deal – rather than just selling the land to someone. In order to mention something tangible your readers could make comparison to, I would like to give just one example similar to „Belgrade Waterfront“, and it’s „HafenCity“ in Hamburg, Germany. This is also a long-term project of urban regeneration where unused area of former Port of Hamburg today is one of the areas contributing the most to the local economy, and it’s the location of new landmark of this city – „Elbphilharmonie“ – one of the largest and acoustically most advanced concert halls in the world opened in 2017.
So my opinion is that „Belgrade Waterfront“ is something very significant for Belgrade and Serbia. It is significant in its development phase boosting local economy by providing jobs for so many sectors directly and indirectly, and more important – it will show its full significance after it’s completed. Don’t be afraid of unknown, big and complex projects. Especially don’t be afraid of them when UAE is your partner. This is how you improve. This is how we improved. This is how cities and countries grow. This is how your economy and your life standard will increase, and this is what at the end of the day makes you attractive to foreign travelers too. „Belgrade Waterfront“ will just be an addition to this beautiful city, providing local residents and foreign visitors one more example of enriched environment and modernized city landscape. This is something that in any mean is not threatening enormous historical heritage of Belgrade, but on contrary – it’s adding value to its image of a modern European destination that could be compared with London, Paris, or any other city that learned how to implement modern in harmony with its traditional and historical. This is a creation of new history, and we can witness it. I think that is quite amazing.
What are your impressions about life style in Serbian capital? What do you like the most?
I was reading a lot about Belgrade before I came, and all sources repeated that Belgrade is dynamic, warm and hospitable. And I couldn’t agree more. This is my impression too. Belgrade is a vibrant city offering cultural and historic sights, every day it has more and more exquisite hotels and restaurants, making efforts to develop itself as an even more attractive destination. My strongest impression is that Serbian people are friendly and welcoming, and there is nothing more important than that to a traveler. Keep up the pace.
What are your main goals and plans for next few years?
My biggest goal is to manage and find a way to make my small personal contribution to further development of relationships between our countries. We actually all have this task, which is to transfer fraternal relation between our Governments to the operational level where we will make good ideas and plans reality. I will do my best to further strengthen our cultural and economic ties, and bring our people even more closer in following years.