Relations between Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are multifaceted. The focus is on sustainable development, the economy, finance, science and new technologies, peace and security policy and human rights.
Bilateral relations Switzerland–United Arab Emirates
On 14 October 2020 the Federal Council adopted a specific strategy for the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA Strategy) for the
2021 – 2024 period. It identifies five thematic priorities: peace, security and human rights; migration and protection of people in need; sustainable development; economic affairs, finance, science; and digitalization and new technologies.
These priorities are weighted differently across the various regions and countries. In the Arabian Peninsula and Iran, priority thematic areas for Switzerland are regional stability and security, economic and financial cooperation, and sustainable natural resource management.
Switzerland also wishes to support the Gulf countries in their efforts to professionalize their international cooperation, especially with regard to South-South cooperation and compliance with international development standards in the areas of climate change, health and water management.
Switzerland's priorities in the UAE
The MENA Strategy 2021 – 2024 identifies the following priorities for Switzerland in the UAE:
Switzerland promotes responsible business conduct in its private sector with a gold trade initiative.
Switzerland is working to improve market access for Swiss companies, also in the field of finance. In particular, it is promoting itself as a tourist destination in the growth market of the Gulf states (Gulf Hub).
The UAE is Switzerland's most important trading partner in the Middle East. The annual trading volume is just under CHF 15 billion. Switzerland mainly exports precious stones and metals, watches, jewellery and pharmaceutical products to the UAE, and mainly imports precious stones, precious metals and jewellery from the country.
They have concluded agreements on the promotion and mutual protection of investments (1998), scheduled air services (1999), reciprocal visa-free access for holders of a diplomatic or service passport (2010) and double taxation (2011). A free trade agreement between EFTA and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) member states entered into force in 2014.
Innovation and new technologies
Switzerland is using existing instruments to link up research institutes at home and in the UAE. It supports start-ups and companies at home that intend to use the economic diversification of the UAE as an opportunity to introduce new technologies developed in Switzerland. It is also supporting the continuation of the EPFL postgraduate project in the UAE.
The opening of an EPFL research centre in Ras Al Khaimah in May 2009 marked the beginning of a promising partnership between Switzerland and the UAE in the field of education. EPFL Middle East offers interdisciplinary master's and PhD programmes in renewable energy and sustainability.
Researchers and artists who are citizens of the UAE can apply for Swiss Government Excellence Scholarships from the State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation (SERI).
Peace, security and human rights
Switzerland is launching a regional initiative to promote dialogue between the states of the Arabian Peninsula and Iran. It is using major events (such as the World Expo 2020) and its close cooperation with the private sector to promote human rights through labor migration initiatives.
Other areas of cooperation
The World Expo 2020 was held in Dubai from 1 October 2021 to 31 March 2022 and was the first ever in the Arab world. 192 countries participated in the Expo and its theme was.
'Connecting Minds, Creating the Future'. Switzerland was the first nation to confirm its participation.
With 1.7 million visitors, the Swiss pavilion was one of the most popular and most visited pavilions in Dubai. It attracted a very international audience of around 100 different nationalities, half of which were UAE residents.
Switzerland regularly participates in events to promote the French language as part of the International Day of La Francophonie and also the Italian culture week (Settimana della Lingua Italiana nel Mondo). It also organises various cultural events.
Swiss nationals in the United Arab Emirates
In 2022, 3,170 Swiss citizens live in the United Arab Emirates.
History of bilateral relations
Relations between Switzerland and the UAE developed in the 1960s as the region experienced an economic boom driven by increased oil production.
Switzerland recognised the UAE in 1971.
In 1976 it opened a trade office in Abu Dhabi which was converted into an embassy in 1982.
A consulate was opened in Dubai five years later, which has since been upgraded to a consulate general responsible for trade relations with the UAE. Consular matters are handled by the Swiss embassy in Abu Dhabi.
A Swiss Business Hub was opened in Dubai in 2005. Switzerland also has a defense attaché, a SDC regional development adviser and a Swiss Tourism representation in the UAE.