This year marks the 100th anniversary since the birth of Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the revered former ruler of the United Arab Emirates.

Year of Zayed celebrations are being held in recognition of Sheikh Zayed’s visionary nation-building achievements and strong values based on wisdom, respect, sustainability and human development, which have shaped the UAE and its citizens.

Under Sheikh Zayed’s leadership, the UAE, with its diverse, cosmopolitan society, has become an international business and travel hub within the Middle East.

Following the UAE’s discovery of oil in the 1950’s, Sheikh Zayed recognized the importance of creating a diversified economy. He said: “We must not rely on oil alone as the main source of our national income. We have to diversify the sources of our revenue and construct economic projects that will ensure a free, stable and dignified life for the people.”

By capitalizing on the UAE’s strategic location between Europe, Asia and Africa, Sheikh Zayed positioned the country as a global connector and successfully attracted huge amounts of foreign investment. His transformation of the UAE leaves him fondly remembered by Emiratis as “the man who turned the desert green.”

The Year of Zayed honors his contributions to the UAE and is an opportunity to continue his legacy by further deepening the country’s international ties, including those with Japan.

A prosperous relationship

Japan and the UAE share a mutually beneficial relationship that has gone from strength to strength over the years.

“For more than 40 years, the bilateral relationship has long been mainly constructed around the oil and gas business and this remains important for Japan’s energy security today,” said Kanji Fujiki, ambassador of Japan to the UAE.

“However, it has been dramatically expanded, diversified and multilayered in recent years into fields such as education, sports, culture, science and technology, aerospace development, agriculture, health care, renewables, tourism and many others. Currently, our relationship with the UAE is the broadest and deepest it has ever been.

“The visit of Mr. Shinzo Abe, prime minister of Japan, to the UAE this April was of great importance for the promotion of business and investment in both Japan and the UAE. Abe and Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan affirmed their determination to further develop their strategic relationship toward the future by starting a framework of cooperation called the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership Initiative.”

“One of the highlights of the visit was the signing of an agreement for the promotion and protection of investment between Japan and the UAE. This was one of the most notable outcomes this year and will encourage many businesspeople to invest more in both countries. I believe these movements will further develop our economic ties in the future.”

Fujiki is confident the UAE-Japan relationship will continue to prosper:

“Since its foundation 47 years ago, the UAE has developed as a sea and air transportation hub connecting almost all of the world’s important cities and ports to Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Both cities are now two of the largest world centers in terms of economy, finance, tourism and logistics. For example, there are five daily flights connecting the major Japanese cities of Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya to Dubai and Abu Dhabi.

“In my opinion, it makes a lot of sense for Japanese companies to establish their regional headquarters in this country as the location makes it extremely convenient for Japanese businesspeople not only to travel around the world, but also get acquainted with the latest global business trends.

“The comfortable business environment includes economic free zones that were introduced by the UAE government in close relationship with the country’s ‘hub-function’ and have enhanced the favorable views of Japanese companies in these locations. As a result, approximately 340 Japanese companies are currently based in the UAE, with 290 in Dubai and 50 in Abu Dhabi, and this number is continuously increasing.”

Gateway to emerging markets

Many Japanese companies and investors favor the UAE due to its advantageous location and welcoming business environment. Executives from both countries also recognize the importance of building long-term relationships based on mutual trust to facilitate business across the region.

“The UAE serves as an attractive hub for doing business in Middle Eastern and North African markets,” said Masami Ando, managing director of the Japan External Trade Organization Dubai.

“The country’s strategic location, good infrastructure, stable government and hospitable business cultures make the UAE a very inviting place to do business. Emirati people have been warm and welcoming to investors, which is why the Japanese presence here has been expanding year after year — economic collaboration between Japan and the UAE is a win-win situation. There are plenty of opportunities for more Japanese businesses and investments into the region and we are doing everything we can to encourage further growth in this relationship and expand our business ties even more.”

In recent years, the number of partnerships between Japan and the UAE has been increasing. These successful ventures are seen as a window of opportunity for investors.

JFE Steel Corp. and Marubeni-Itochu Steel Inc., two Japanese leaders in the global steel industry, established Al Gharbia Pipe Company with Senaat — the largest partnership between Japan and the UAE in the manufacturing sector to date.

“The UAE is a beacon of opportunity, and logistically (it) makes sense to set up a base here,” said Mitsuru Anezaki, general manager of Al Gharbia Pipe Company. “Furthermore, Middle Eastern and African markets are a new frontier for Asian companies and remain widely untapped. Using our base in Abu Dhabi, we can expand to the rest of the region and branch out toward other opportunities and avenues for business. The Year of Zayed is an opportunity for us to continue diversifying the economy and show the synergies that exist between our two countries.”

A bright future for continued investment

“Looking toward the future, Japanese companies will continue to flourish and become more diversified,” said ambassador Fujiki. “I am certain that our relationship will expand significantly and grow in many industries, including space, tourism, agriculture, education, robotics and artificial intelligence technology.”

In 2020, the universal exposition Expo 2020 will be held in Dubai. The event is expected to be the most international World Expo in recent years with over 180 participating countries. Expo 2020 will serve as a showcase for global collaboration and partnerships, and will undoubtedly encourage further investment into the region.

The Year of Zayed is a tremendous opportunity to celebrate Sheikh Zayed’s legacy of acceptance and cooperation between cultures. Sheikh Zayed’s outlook continues to influence the UAE in a positive light and further strengthen the country’s international relations. It is this open and accepting outlook that will enable the UAE and Japan to continue their collaborative partnership for decades to come.