ABU DHABI, May 1, (Agencies): German Chancellor Angela Merkel met Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan in the United Arab Emirates Monday for talks on economic and security issues.
Talks covered “bilateral political and economic relations … the crises in Syria, Libya and Yemen as well as efforts by the two countries to combat extremism”, state news agency WAM reported. WAM has reported the UAE is Germany’s main trading partner in the Gulf, with annual trade worth around $16 billion (14.67 billion euros).
German investments in the United Arab Emirates stand at around 2.4 billion euros ($2.6 billion), according to German government sources. Merkel’s UAE visit comes after meetings Sunday with top Saudi officials in Jeddah, where the German chancellor signed a string of draft agreements with King Salman covering industry, economic relations and security.
Germany has offered diplomatic help to try to end the war in Yemen, Merkel said on Monday as she ended a two-nation Gulf tour taking in the Arab world’s largest economies with a stop in the United Arab Emirates. Merkel arrived in the sevenstate federation following a visit to neighboring Saudi Arabia, where she held talks with King Salman and other senior leaders that touched on regional conflicts as well as women’s inequality and other human rights issues.
She said Berlin is offering diplomatic support aimed at resolving the Yemen conflict and has been in contact with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres about its proposal, according to a transcript of her remarks provided by her office. “Germany has offered to support this UN process with its own diplomatic possibilities,” she was quoted as saying. “That has met with the approval of Saudi Arabia. We will now move ahead with the necessary coordination with the UN secretarygeneral.”
A Saudi-led coalition backed by significant Emirati support has been bombing and battling Yemeni rebels for more than two years in support of the impoverished country’s internationally recognized government. Shiite powerhouse Iran supports the rebels, known as Houthis, and the Sunni-ruled Gulf states view the fight as a way to limit Iran’s involvement in their backyard.
While in Saudi Arabia, Merkel had said she does not believe there can be a military solution to the war, which has killed more than 10,000 civilians and created a humanitarian crisis in what was already the Arab world’s poorest country. The UN recently said some 18.8 million people in the country need humanitarian help or protection.
The German leader was greeted by Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan upon her arrival on Monday in the Emirati capital, Abu Dhabi. The crown prince is the half-brother of the country’s ailing president and his presumed successor.
Emirati officials did not allow foreign journalists based in the country to witness Merkel’s visit. German officials have said Merkel would press Gulf rulers to do more to take in refugees and provide humanitarian relief for those fleeing conflict in Muslim-majority countries. Germany has provided refuge to hundreds of thousands of people from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years.
Trade is high on Merkel’s agenda too. Her delegation includes prominent German business leaders looking to strengthen ties with the country’s two largest trading partners in the Middle East. Her meetings in the Emirates, which includes the Mideast commercial hub of Dubai, would include discussion of a free-trade agreement between the Gulf states in the European Union and “how we can move ahead and intensify our economic relations still further,” she said.
Merkel said on Monday she hopes the European Union and the six Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries can finally complete a free trade agreement and that she would discuss the issue with Abu Dhabi’s crown prince. Germany, which relies on foreign trade for half its gross domestic product, fears that the protectionism backed by US President Donald Trump and the fallout from Britain’s vote to leave the EU posed global economic risks.
“I’ll be talking with Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan about this question,” Merkel said on Monday before her meeting. “The issue at hand is how to intensify the economic relations between the two regions.” On a trip to Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi, Merkel told reporters that the economic relations between the two regions needed to be strengthened. She said she had also discussed the issue on Sunday on her visit to Saudi Arabia.
“I made it clear that a free trade agreement with the Gulf states would be of great interest from a European point of view,” Merkel said during her visit to Jeddah on Sunday. She noted that the EU had made a new offer for an agreement but that the GCC states had not yet responded. Merkel said she had talked to King Salman about the issue on Sunday evening. Trade between the EU and GCC amounted to 138 billion euros in 2016, according to the EU.
Exports from EU countries to the GCC were worth 100 billion euros and imports to the EU were worth 38 billion. Two-way trade has been growing steadily in the last decade. The EU-GCC talks date back some 20 years. Little progress has been made lately. In response to scepticism about free trade from President Trump, Germany has been urging the EU to speed agreements to open trade.
Talks are underway with the GCC, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, Australia and New Zealand. In March, Gulf officials said the six GCC states were pressing for an early agreement on free trade with Britain to secure preferential arrangements after Brexit and could have a draft agreement ready within months.
GCC states are trying to diversify their economies and boost non-oil trade after more than two years of low global oil prices that have hurt their finances. They export mainly oil, gas and related products to Western economies while importing a wide range of goods and services.