Interview of President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy to the Emirates News Agency WAM.
- Mr. President, this is your first official visit to the region. Why did you decide to come to the UAE and how do you see the current state of Ukraine's relations with the Emirates?
- The United Arab Emirates is a country that is developing extremely fast and has a huge economic potential. The Emirates clearly show its leadership nature not only in the economy, technology, social sphere, but also in the regional peace process. The normalization of relations between the UAE and Israel has been a real breakthrough, and Ukraine welcomes this historic step.
I would also like to note the incredible efforts of the Emirates in the fight against COVID-19 not only at home, but also abroad. The UAE has provided assistance to many countries around the world, and Ukraine will not forget the Emirati plane, which so timely delivered friendly humanitarian aid to fight COVID-19 and helped many Ukrainians get home. For this, I would like to once again thank the leadership of your country.
Therefore, it is quite logical that the UAE is one of Ukraine's key partners in the Middle East, and our country pays special attention to the development of relations with the Emirates. Maximizing and expanding bilateral relations with the UAE is a priority of our foreign policy. This is very important for us, and we are gradually moving to expand the horizons of our relationship by putting more and more ambitious projects on the agenda.
I can already describe the relations between Ukraine and the UAE as quite dynamic and with a stable tendency towards rapid development. Evidence of this are economic indicators, including bilateral trade, the state of the legal framework (more than 30 bilateral agreements and memoranda of cooperation), cultural and humanitarian cooperation.
I believe that through exchanges of visits and active political dialogue with the leadership of your country, we can fill our bilateral cooperation with new concrete projects and find new mechanisms to intensify relations.
- How do you see bilateral economic ties? Have any specific areas of cooperation already been identified?
- Despite the significant difficulties caused by Russian aggression and the temporary occupation of Crimea, Ukraine continues to move along the path of economic reforms to create the most favorable conditions for the development of economic ties with the world.
In recent years, there has been a steady tendency between Ukraine and the UAE to intensify trade and economic cooperation. The Emirates is a reliable and important trading partner for Ukrainian companies. This is confirmed by the fact that currently more than 200 Ukrainian companies operate in the UAE.
The total volume of trade in goods and services between Ukraine and the Emirates in 2019 amounted to USD 1 billion 65 million.
Naturally, last year somewhat slowed down economic activity, but we are confident that the resumption of global activity in this and subsequent years will have a positive impact on our trade. We see mechanisms that will make it possible to restore and exceed pre-crisis turnover.
We have already developed traditional areas of cooperation. The main export positions of Ukraine in the UAE are still the products of the agro-industrial complex and metallurgy. Indeed, Ukraine can and will become a guarantor of food security in the Emirates. Ukrainian chernozems are known all over the world, we are among the world leaders in the export of wheat, corn and barley.
We also strive and work to ensure that high-tech products with high added value begin to dominate our trade structure.
To do this, we are ready to invite our Emirati colleagues to focus on joint projects of production of such high-tech goods. Ukraine has the appropriate technologies, and with the help of investments from the UAE, we can create such products for our own needs and for the supply to third country markets.
For example, such a high-tech field could be space. We commend your country's achievements in space, including the successful mission of the Hope probe. With one of the world's leaders in this field, Pivdenne design bureau, we can jointly expand our space capabilities.
On the other hand, we are ready to adopt the UAE's best practices in the field of artificial intelligence, renewable energy sources, and infrastructure development.
- Maybe there are already joint projects and cooperation in the field of investment?
- Attracting investment in the economy is one of the most important issues today for every country, and Ukraine is no exception. The inflow of investments is an important factor in the stable development of the economy and a clear signal to investors, so the issues of investment cooperation and cooperation in the field of innovation are among the key areas of development of relations between Ukraine and the UAE.
A successful example of attracting Emirati investments is the entry into the Ukrainian market of one of the world's largest port operators DP World, which is currently operating in a container terminal in the Odesa region in the south of our country.
At the same time, there is always something to work on when it comes to investment. For its part, Ukraine will create the most favorable conditions for investors and will continue to work with Emirati investment funds, companies and private investors.
- Will Ukraine take part in Dubai Expo 2020?
- Yes of course. We simply cannot miss such an important world event as Expo 2020.
I would like to thank the UAE leadership for the fact that, despite all the difficulties associated with COVID-19, the construction of the Ukrainian pavilion was completed in December last year, and internal work is underway there. At the World Expo in Dubai, our country will be represented at the highest level.
I can say that the architectural image of the pavilion of Ukraine embodies the idea of an ear of wheat. It will be 15 meters high, so I hope you can now easily recognize and visit it. Wheat is an important symbol for Ukrainians, and the yellow color on our flag symbolizes the wheat field and readiness to contribute to world food security.
- How do you see the development of Ukrainian-Emirati cultural and humanitarian cooperation?
- It is very easy to develop cultural and humanitarian cooperation with the UAE, because the Emirates is one of the world's centers of event tourism. There are many different exhibitions and festivals in which Ukrainians take an active part.
Last year was special, and many events had to be canceled. However, in 2019 everything was different, and many Ukrainian artists, athletes, cultural figures visited the UAE to participate in relevant events. For example, the National Team of the Special Olympics of Ukraine successfully participated in the Special Olympics World Summer Games in the UAE, winning six gold, four silver and three bronze medals.
I know that this year the Emirates will begin to resume its frantic pace of events, so cultural and humanitarian cooperation will resume. In particular, in just a week Ukrainian high-level delegations will take part in the international exhibition of defense technologies IDEX 2021 and the international exhibition of food products Gulfood 2021. Traditionally, we will be represented by national stands and powerful business delegations.
Returning to your question: already during the Expo 2020 much attention will be paid to cultural and artistic events. In the domestic pavilion of Ukraine we are planning to show the uniqueness and originality of the Ukrainian people and culture through the prism of modern technologies and innovative approaches to life, interaction with the outside world. The focus of the domestic pavilion will be technologies and innovative processes that cover everyday life and make it environmentally friendly, energy efficient and rational.
- What about the Ukrainian community? How many Ukrainians live in the UAE?
- About 15 thousand Ukrainians live in the UAE, and this figure is growing. They work in various fields, including hotel business, IT and financial services. Russia's aggression against our country has united the Ukrainian community, made it more active and creative. In recent years, Ukrainians have formed several associations of their own, including the Ukrainian Business Council, two Ukrainian weekend schools in Abu Dhabi and Dubai. It is important that our citizens have an opportunity to pray and ask for God's help in their native language in the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church in the UAE.
Ukrainians actively visit the UAE as tourists, which is facilitated by the visa-free regime between our countries. In 2019 alone, more than 250,000 our citizens visited the Emirates. Of course, the pandemic has made its adjustments, but when we overcome its consequences, Ukrainians will resume their travels to the Emirates, and Emiratis, in turn, will be free to discover Ukraine, which also has countless unique tourist destinations. We are confident that we will be able to encourage Emiratis to become our guests. Our tourism agency will discuss these issues with the UAE Ministry of Economy. We have a lot of tourist "magnets".