By Rachna Uppal
DUBAI (Reuters) -The United Arab Emirates and Ukraine agreed on Monday to begin talks on a bilateral trade deal, expected to conclude by the middle of next year, the UAE’s economy ministry said.
The UAE has tried to remain neutral in the Ukraine conflict despite Western pressure on Gulf oil producers to help isolate Russia, a fellow OPEC+ member.
UAE minister of state for foreign trade Thani Al Zeyoudi and Ukrainian economy minister Yulia Svyrydenko signed a joint statement on negotiations towards a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA), the ministry said.
This would “help to drive Ukraine’s economic recovery and create new opportunities for exporters, investors and manufacturers, and facilitate collaboration in high-value sectors such as infrastructure, heavy industry, aviation, IT & food security,” Al Zeyoudi later tweeted.
It would be the UAE’s first such deal with a European country, after more than $3 billion in trade and investment pledges made during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s visit to the Gulf state in February 2021.
Non-oil trade with Ukraine amounted to just over $900 million in 2021, up nearly 29% over the previous year, and 12% more than in 2019, the UAE ministry said.
“Ukraine is a key trade partner. The growth and investment potential was high before the whole geopolitical situation; we think it’s time to push things forward,” Al Zeyoudi earlier told Reuters.
“This is not only going to bring added value to the UAE, but also to Ukraine as well.”
Talks will likely centre on opportunities in the services sector and food security, where the UAE is making a push. Ukraine is a major supplier of grain to the Middle East.
A CEPA with Ukraine would open up access to new markets in Asia, Africa and the Middle East for Ukraine’s agricultural and industrial output, Al Zeyoudi said.
The UAE has signed free trade deals with India, Israel and Indonesia this year, aiming to build its position as a global trade and logistics hub at a time of rising competition from Saudi Arabia.
(Reporting by Rachna Uppal; Editing by Gareth Jones and Alexander Smith)