Trade Mission 2014: Abu Dhabi and Dubai

Delegates on the 2014 Trade Mission to the cities of Abu Dhabi and Dubai found out firsthand just how much the United Arab Emirates can offer in terms of its diverse economy, ongoing growth and potential trade.

Santander’s Breakthrough International Trade Mission to Abu Dhabi and Dubai in 2014 aimed to build links and explore opportunities in one of the world’s most dynamic export markets. These two cities are the prime drivers of growth in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Abu Dhabi, the federal capital of the UAE, saw its economy expand by 5.2% in 2013. Dubai’s economy grew by almost 5% in the same year, both according to Foreign & Commonwealth Office figures.

Arranged with the support of both UK Trade & Investment (UKTI) and Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank, the Breakthrough UAE Trade Mission offered delegates a unique insight into the region’s business culture and financial landscape, as John Williams, Head of Breakthrough at Santander, explains. “Delegates benefitted greatly from meeting a range of businesses and experts to share their experiences and gain valuable guidance on how to access the UAE market,” he says. “This was good for delegates, good for business in the UAE and good for the continued growth of the UK economy.”

Tapping a vast potential market 

More than 4,000 British companies are already doing business in the UAE, according to UKTI. The 2014 mission was the first Trade Mission that Breakthrough International have arranged to the country and it gave 11 delegates from selected fast-growth SMEs the opportunity to establish their own trade links within Abu Dhabi and Dubai. “The UAE economy is diverse and expanding, which makes it an exciting time to operate in the region, especially for UK companies that can benefit from existing trade links,” explains Richard Cuda, Director Strategic Business Alliances, International, Santander Corporate and Commercial Banking.

''Delegates benefitted greatly from meeting a range of businesses and experts to share their experiences and gain valuable guidance on how to access the UAE market.'' John Williams, Head of Breakthrough at Santander

The UAE is the UK’s largest civil export market in the Middle East, with UK-UAE bilateral trade in goods and services reaching £10.6 billion in 2012, according to UKTI. “We received a large number of applicants to the 2014 Trade Mission and chose those that are at the initial stages of doing business in the region or that have the greatest chance of success in the market,” says Richard.

Delegates included luxury goods manufacturers, waste and security solutions providers, plus construction, media, fertiliser and child-development businesses. They were accompanied by a senior Santander team tasked with helping every delegate to develop new contacts, expand their network and deepen their understanding of the UAE market.

Strategic location

After successful Breakthrough International Trade Missions to New York, Boston, Mexico and Brazil, the UAE was an obvious next destination for Santander-supported companies looking to expand overseas. UK exports to the region increased by 13% in 2013 to £5,833 million. The UAE is also a trade hub for the surrounding areas, with UK goods and services re-exported to a regional market worth £150 billion, according to UKTI.

“The average disposable income of UAE residents is one of the highest in the world,” explains Richard. “Its location makes it a central hub for the Middle East and North Africa, and Dubai has just been announced as the location of the World Expo in 2020.” The Expo will attract millions of visitors from the global economic community to Dubai, with an expected boost of US$23 billion to the economy. Historically, the World Expo has generated important economic and social legacies for the host, which will further cement UAE’s importance to UK businesses who are looking to develop opportunities.

“Anyone who has visited Abu Dhabi and Dubai can sense the growth and possibilities on offer,” adds Richard. “It’s a fascinating place to do business as it has such a strong cultural identity, with Arabic language, documentation and customs, but it is successfully managing to meld this with western ways of thinking and approaches to doing business.”

''The UAE economy is diverse and expanding, which makes it an exciting time to operate in the region, especially for UK companies that can benefit from existing trade links.'' Richard Cuda, Director Strategic Business Alliances

One of the goals of Breakthrough International’s Trade Mission is to help delegates understand the challenges of this market and access the advice and support required to navigate legal, tax and trade rules that may seem confusing at first. For example, each individual emirate has regulatory powers over commercial activities not regulated by federal legislation. There are also restrictions on company ownership by non-Gulf Co-operation Council nationals.

Full support and a packed schedule

UKTI assisted delegates through its Overseas Market Introduction Service and its teams at the British Embassy in Abu Dhabi. The Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank was also on hand to provide valuable on-the-ground expertise and contacts.

Richard outlines the schedule. “For the duration of the six-day trip, we organised briefing sessions on the economic landscape of UAE, networking receptions and one-on-one meetings with buyers, importers, suppliers and wholesalers tailored to the delegate’s own sector or industry,” he says. “Delegates were provided with the tools and introductions but it was up to them to make the most of those opportunities. I advise anyone else preparing to trade in the UAE to prepare well in advance, go with an open mind and work hard.”

Global trade made easy 

Richard also recommends delegates access the Santander Trade Portal, which offers targeted data on global markets including the UAE. “It’s a fantastic resource as it offers information at a granular level, so you can find advice on everything from culture and conventions around business attire and punctuality to legal regulations,” he says. “If you want to find out more about trading in the UAE, talk to Santander and we can help with advice, contacts and business information. Don’t be afraid to ask.”

Plans for the 2015 Santander Trade Mission to this region are currently underway.

Trade Missions places are available to eligible participants in the Breakthrough programme. To register your interest in attending a Breakthrough Trade Mission, please email:


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