Foreign Exchange and Trade Agreements in the United Arab Emirates

Current UAE’s Trade Agreements

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is one of the member states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). These countries have recently boosted their participation in international trade. The UAE and the rest of the GCC members have become part of various free trade agreements (FTAs), including the GCC itself, Greater Arab Free Trade Area (GAFTA), and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA). The UAE imports goods into the countries with which it has an FTA free from customs duties (Hussain, 2019, p. 2). The arrangement regarding import duties may depend on the specific FTA for which the UAE is major. However, the key idea is that the UAE has multiple bilateral FTAs, which allow it to freely trade with other countries. Examples of global FTAs include the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), World Trade Organization (WTO), the European Union (EU), North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The UAE trades with many member states to these FTAs, either with the individual States or the entire trade blocks. For example, the GCC-EFTA means that the GCC trade block has an FTA with the EU.

The UAE became a member of the WTO in 1996, which could be perceived as a late entry. However, the country and the entire GCC region immediately became active members through participation in negotiations and fulfilling its obligations to the WTO. The UAE was driven by the need to develop its economy and in the pursuit of sustainable development. Through the cooperation with the GCC members, the UAE signed an FTA with EFTA on December 31, 2003, which was implemented on January 1, 2003 (D’Andrea & Partners, 2021). The gulf region was being marketed as a common market, where countries signing FTAs would enjoy unified customs tariff and regulations, as well as economic and development policies. In 2008, the UAE, as part of the GCC, signed an FTA with Singapore, which was called GCC Singapore Free Trade Agreement (GSFTA) (D’Andrea & Partners, 2021). This agreement is considered to be comprehensive in outlining the benefits firms in various sectors would enjoy. Major industries affected in the GSFTA include jewelry, petrochemicals, iron, aluminum, and machinery. Therefore, the UAE has signed most of the FTAs through the GCC banner.

Individually, the UAE has signed several FTAs with multiple countries, especially in Asia. For example, the UAE is the 3rd largest trading partner with India and the 9th biggest foreign direct investment (FDI) investor in India. This relationship has been based on multiple trade agreements with India since the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreement (DTAA) signed in April 1992. Other UAE-India bilateral agreements include the Customs Cooperation Agreement signed on April 1, 2012, Framework Agreement on Economic Cooperation signed on August 25, 2004, and the Bilateral Investment Promotion and Protection Agreement (BIPPA) signed on December 12, 2013 (D’Andrea & Partners, 2021). FTAs have also been signed with Israel where the UAE-Israel trade has been estimated to grow by $6.5 billion in a decade (Egel, Efron, and Robinson, 2021, p. 2). These bilateral trade agreements have been the result of the Abraham Accords, which have seen Israel enter FTAs with many Arab countries.

Many Arab countries have signed trade agreements with each other. The UAE has, GAFTA, access to free trade with such countries as Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Tunisia, Morocco, Syria, and Palestine. Other members of the GAFTA are Yemen and Libya, all of whom trade freely with the UAE. Other trade agreements have been made between the UAE and the Islamic Republic of Pakistan in 2006, the Republic of Kazakhstan in 2016, the Republic of Maldives in 2014, and the Republic of Azerbaijan in 2011. The nature of these trade agreements may differ across the countries. However, since the focus is on the FTAs, it is important to mention that GAFTA, GSFTA, and the GCC-EFTA comprise the most prominent free trade agreements for which the UAE is a member.

From a theoretical perspective, it is important to differentiate between free trade and free trade agreements. Several examples of free trade between the UAE and other countries have been given, which should not be confused with FTAs. According to Rodrik (2018, p. 76), free trade entails an optimal economic policy where compensatory policies can be implemented and adverse market failures addressed using compensatory policies. FTAs have gone beyond the import tariffs and quotas to reflect a greater harmonization across multiple dimensions. Examples include labor standards, health and safety regulations, patent rules, and investor courts. The trade agreements are signed treaties that bind signatories to selected trade arrangements.

Pros and Cons of Trade Agreements in the Middle East

Trade agreements have great benefits for the countries that are signatories to them. From an economic perspective, the main benefit of a trade agreement is that countries can trade freely and enjoy such benefits are reduced tariffs and other taxation reliefs. Having a trade agreement with the Middle East means accessing new markets with ease that comes with these eased taxation constraints. In the case of the UAE, the Middle East represents a collection of countries with almost similar natural resources. However, developments in other sectors of the economy mean that some countries have comparative advantages in the production of certain commodities that can be traded with ease across the region. In this regard, it can be argued that trade agreements tend to increase trade between countries. In other cases, trade creation and diversion can also occur. According to Jámbor, Gál, and Török (2020), countries with trade agreements can easily divert trade from non-member countries to member states where more favorable policies are accompanied by greater benefits. Therefore, trade agreements with the Middle East result in increased trade, even with such countries as Israel.

Free trade with the Middle East can also help a country grow its economy. According to Ahmad (2020), the Middle East is no longer a mere warzone but a growing marketplace. Therefore, it means that any country willing to invest in this region will likely experience a massive boost in its economic growth. The UAE is a member of the GCC, which makes it possible to trade goods and services across the region. The country gets capital inflows from its investments in the region and also obtains goods and services at affordable rates through the reciprocation of trade tariffs and other arrangements. The growth potential of the region means that all countries trading with the Middle East face the same upward trajectory in the economic growth. It is also important to acknowledge that the peace agreement for the Middle East facilitates harmonious growth in the region. For example, the normalization of the Israel-UAE relations facilitates the free trade and mutual growth.

Another pro is the foreign exchange (Forex) market that is opened through trade agreements with the Middle East. Some observers have noticed that the Forex market in the Middle East is undergoing a revolution in recent years. For example, a Bloomberg report in 2016 reported that the Middle East Forex accounted for 8% of the global trade in 2013, which was an estimated $5.3 trillion traded daily (Bloomberg, 2016). The reason for the growth of Forex in the region is that the Middle East is strategically located between Europe and Asia, which has resulted in a growth of investor interests. Free trade with the Middle East will open the Forex market, which can be exploited by countries to claim a share of the massive revenues it generates. It can be expected that trade amounts have multiplied since 2013, especially considering that the region has massively developed over the past few years. The importance of the Forex trade in the Middle East cannot be underestimated, especially for such countries as the UAE and Saudi Arabia, where most of the trading takes place.

Free trade with the Middle East may also have disadvantages, especially due to the business environment of most countries. Examples include the fact that most of the labor force is outsourced to foreign workers. Within this workforce, extreme inequalities have been reported, especially because many foreign workers are paid very low wages (Assouad, 2020). Investing in the region may fail to offer the economic benefits expected because low wages often mean low purchasing power. With the inequalities observed, the living conditions in the region are declining, which in turn causes instability as illustrated by multiple protests. Free trade with countries where economic prospects remain uncertain can be risky. For example, the protests cause local business disruptions, which affect the profitability of many firms.

Another key aspect is the fact that a trade war is going on between USA and China. The fact that the AED is pegged to the US dollar means that the trade in the region is easily influenced by external issues. Questions of how the US-China trade war affects the Middle East have been asked and many experts and observers believe the greatest impact will be on the prices of oil (Pollock, 2019). The argument is that the prices of oil fluctuate depending on global issues and the tensions created by China and the US are expected to have a similar effect. While higher prices may benefit the region, it is also important to consider that a toil on both the US and Chinese economies will reduce their oil imports (Mack, 2019). In this case, the region loses two critical markets for the oil.

Peace in the Middle East has been for the focus of major global powers, including the United States. For example, a key objective of the Trump administration was to achieve peaceful trade through control of the economic stability of the region. The UAE needed this peace and the fact that the oil is priced in US dollars means any movements in the dollar affect the oil and natural gas prices. The UAE is in need of major partners in the pursuit of peace and stability. Illustrations of this can be found by the joint effort between the UAE and China to build a vaccine factory and to build a 5G infrastructure in the country.

Another con is that the growth in the region is accompanied by massive environmental issues. A study by Muhammad (2019) highlights the correlation between growth and environmental degradation. The link is found in energy consumption, where the growth of an economy causes higher levels of energy consumption. The main output from the energy consumed is carbon dioxide (CO2), which is emitted into the atmosphere. Air pollution and global warming are becoming critical problems for all countries across the world. Therefore, the Middle East is not a popular trading partner to countries that pursue sustainability and environmental protection. In addition to the CO2 emissions, waste generation is also on the rise due to increased construction activities. As long as the region depends heavily on oil and natural gas, the Middle East will remain to be one of the most polluting regions in the world.

UAE’s Foreign M&As

The UAE has emerged as one of the most suitable countries for big multinationals in which to invest. This can be illustrated by the multiple mergers and acquisitions (M&As) taking place in the country. Multinational corporations (MNCs) use a variety of strategies to penetrate foreign markets. According to Ha, Binh, and Dang (2020, p. 2), entry modes include franchising, licensing, M&As, joint ventures, foreign direct investments (FDIs) exporting, research and development (R&D) contracts, and strategic alliances. Joint ventures are contractual strategic partnerships between separate business entities to conduct business together. These arrangements involve each partner making capital and resource contributions in exchange for an equity stake and a share of profits generated by the venture. Strategic partnerships may function similarly but the main focus is on sharing strategic resources for mutual success in a market. For example, a manufacturing business may partner with an R&D firm in a foreign market to acquire knowledge and innovations. In exchange, the manufacturing firm may offer other resources, for example, capital, to the R&D firm.

FDIs involve a company acquiring assets in a foreign market to manage and control them. Therefore, a firm may purchase plants, property, or equipment to help it establish operations in the country. FDIs are often long-term strategies for MNCs hoping to establish themselves permanently. One of the simplest entry strategies is exporting, which involves selling products to a foreign market. The business does not need to establish any operations or making significant investments in the foreign market. Licensing is an arrangement where a business grants permission to another to use intellectual property under predetermined conditions. M&As describes the scenario where a business purchases a foreign firm and integrates it with the parent company. Lastly, franchising involves semi-independent business owners who pay fees and royalties to the parent company. In exchange, the franchisee acquires the right to be identified with the franchisor’s trademark and to sell its products and services.

In the UAE, M&As majorly involve foreign companies acquiring domestic businesses or purchasing controlling stakes. For example, the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) agreed to a $10 billion investment with several global investors who will acquire a minority stake and control various pipeline assets (Lobo and Samad, 2021). The UAE has also developed comprehensive laws to govern FDIs in the country, especially after ranking the first in the Arab world in terms of the highest FDI inflows. Therefore, it is important to notice that FDIs involve foreign MNCs making investments in the UAE.

However, new FDI outflows are beginning to emerge with the UAE companies beginning to acquire foreign assets. For example, the Dubai-based Emaar Properties acquires a property comprising 1000 acres of land for development at the Baghdad International Airport, Iraq. The company will further invest in the land to establish a residential area with integrated facilities and a cultural and sports club with golf. Another example involves Abu Dhabi-based Mubadala Investment Company establishing a subsidiary in Iraq called Masdar. This branch is based in Iraq and has recently signed an agreement to develop 2,000 MW of solar photovoltaic projects in the country (Iraq) (Lee, 2021). These infrastructural developments can be regarded as FDIs because they involve the UAE-based company making direct investments in the country. The signing of agreements in these two examples illustrates that the FDI outflows are yet to be reflected in the country’s records as outwards investments. Considering that these examples are very recent, it can still be argued that FDI inflows from such countries as Australia, China, and the United States dominate much of the FDI activity involving the UAE.

Regarding other forms of market entry, several countries have emerged as the top destinations for UAE’s businesses. Crude oil is a vital product offered by such companies as ADNOC. However, the UAE also produces gold, jewelry, and broadcasting equipment. The top destination for these products is India, followed closely by Japan and Saudi Arabia. Other countries that import oil from the UAE include Iraq, Oman, Switzerland, China, and Singapore. Therefore, the UAE companies do not need to get involved with the foreign markets using the export entry method. There is limited data regarding other forms of entry methods involving UAE multinationals. However, it can be argued that the UAE is still an emerging market, which means that it serves more as a destination for MNCs as opposed to the source. In other words, foreign MNCs are a common phenomenon as opposed to UAE’s MNC’s in foreign markets.

House Prices and Financial Crises in Dubai

The financial crisis of 2008 has been extensively studied and the lessons used to caution certain market activities. The housing failures were the main trigger to the crisis and also helped to prolong it. With these observations, it can be argued that any developments in real estate should be perceived in the same manner as potential causes or indicators of a looming financial crisis. However, it is important to acknowledge that the housing prices only led to growth in the housing sector where underlying aspects were more responsible for the crisis. In other words, the growth in demand for housing and the high prices meant that the financial sector entered the market. The outcome was unsustainable mortgages characterized by both undercapitalization and insufficient safeguards (Calhoun, 2018). Therefore, the lack of security for the mortgages and the development of housing beyond the demand cap is the main factor in the financial crisis.

Dubai is one of the emirates where the housing sector is experiencing massive growth. Observers may start to think that the housing situation in the emirate may mirror that of the United States, where the 2008 financial crisis emanated. However, the key question for anyone perceiving Dubai’s growth in housing as perilous should be how the country’s financial sector is involved and what protections exist. The only time when the housing sector experienced a slump is during the Covid-19 pandemic where lockdowns halted further developments and rents declined (Rahman, 2021). Property prices have been on the rise for several years. Since the end of 2020, the prices have started to recover steadily, which means that the sector is solid and safe from any crashes. Investors have been taking advantage of the decade-low prices and easy financing. However, it is important to consider much of the developments involve luxury villas, which often tend to attract the rich. Oversupply may still be a problem, but it can be expected that the country will respond prudently to the problem before it becomes a crisis.

The fact that the housing prices are fluctuating in Dubai means that the market is responding well to demand and supply. Whenever a slump in demand has been experienced, the supply has also gone down as the investors slow down their momentum. Additionally, the prices have been projected to stabilize in 2021, which is another indicator that there are no signs of a looming crisis (Rahman, 2021). Additionally, new developments focus on foreign expatriate retirees, who are inadequate supply in a country where a large proportion of the workforce comprises foreign workers. It means that Dubai does not seek to meet demand from the locals but from an international community who remain convinced that Dubai is one the best place to be both in the region and in the world.

The housing bubble in Dubai may depend on the developments taking place in the Middle East. Many states in the region, including the other emirates, are experiencing a similar upsurge in housing development. The housing bubble may depend on how long Dubai can remain better than the competing cities in the region as an investment hub for wealthy MNCs. However, it is important to consider that Dubai’s real estate laws allow foreigners to own property on freehold for up to 99 years. Therefore, it can be argued that the investors coming to the region may have a long-term approach to the acquisition of property, which could allow adequate time for recovery even when a crisis occurs. The housing bubble may burst only when Dubai is no longer the regional hub for business. This sentiment has been supported by (Ahmed, Maheshwari, and Mirani, 2020) who argue that investment for value in Dubai’s real estate depends on, in addition to the recent economic conditions, the market share with future perspective. It is the long-term nature of investments that may help secure the market.

Other housing markets across the globe, including Melbourne and Sydney, may face different prospects than Dubai. The argument is that these markets tend to serve largely the domestic demand. In Australia, housing prices have been rising steadily and are considered to be the fastest rise in 30 years. According to Duke (2021), the property prices in Sidney and Melbourne rose by thousands of dollars in one month. The investors, who include the banks and financial institutions, have rushed to take advantage of these developments. The Australian government is also making attempts to control lending but it can be argued that the housing bubble in Australia is highly likely to burst unless lending and investment practices are strictly controlled by the government.

Geographical Arbitrage in Forex

The concept of arbitrage has received a wide range of definitions depending on the context of usage. A general textbook definition given by Poitra (2021) states that arbitrage means a riskless trading strategy that generates a positive profit without a net investment of funds. In Forex, arbitrage could be used to imply that a trader engages in a transaction that will be assured to turn a profit, which means that currency sold attracts a higher price than the one bought. According to Osamwonyi and Adeoba (2017), an arbitrage involves taking advantage of the price difference between two or more markets, where the profit is the difference between the markets. The difference in pricing could result from several factors, including the mispricing of assets. However, it is important to acknowledge that technological developments have helped reduce these challenges due to the ease of accessibility of information. Forex markets are entered by anyone and the availability of information means that no trader is offered any advantage. Changes in arbitrage can emanate from differences across markets and activities of large players, including banks.

Geographical or location-based arbitrage can be defined as the geographic differences in the bid-ask quotes of assets, majorly as a result of banks’ mispricing in a particular geographical area. In this scenario, one bank’s bid is lower than the other banks, which allows a trader to buy a currency from one bank and sell it to another for profit. With this conceptualization, it is evident that geographic arbitrage occurs in forex. It is important to notice that geographical arbitrage may occur as a result of differences in interest rates. In this case, interest arbitrage involves the transfer of liquid funds from one financial currency to be received upon the maturity of the investment. These investments often seek to take advantage of the differences in interest rates across countries, which means assets can be purchased in one currency and received in another where rates are higher. The price differential remains the key aspect of geographical arbitrage.

Another key form of arbitrage is the triangular arbitrage, which takes advantage of differences in exchange rates. Investors in this form of arbitrage purchase a currency, convert it into a second, changes the second to a third, and then use the third to purchase the first (Osamwonyi and Adeoba, 2017). Therefore, three currencies are involved where the differences in spot rates are exploited to turn a profit with no risks involved in the transactions.

There is little evidence to suggest that geographical arbitrage exists in Dubai’s forex market. The differences between the currency rates in Dubai and India mean that traders in both of these locations can take advantage to make a profit. As illustrated by Gupta (2018), currency prices fluctuate in a matter of seconds, where Indian currency can be bought at 64.40 and received in Dubai currency at 64.45. While this is only an example, it shows how investors in Dubai conduct their businesses by exploiting arbitrage. Additionally, the presence of arbitrage companies in Dubai means that arbitrage is a common practice where such currencies as Indian rupees and U.S. dollars are traded. Examples of these companies include Smccomex, whose business revolves around forex arbitrage

Effects of Brexit on the Distribution of the Pound

Brexit has become one of the hotly debated subjects in recent times due to the critical issues associated with it. Brexit is the act of Britain leaving the European Union, which means many of the economic benefits offered by the EU. For example, the UK banks will no longer operate in the EU as before, which means new restrictions could restrain their profitability. It can be expected that the value of the currency will depreciate as a result of this move (Plakandaras, Gupta, and Wohar, 2017). Additionally, migration issues arise where British citizens will not enjoy the freedom of movement across the EU as they did before. It can be argued that migration was one of the key reasons for Brexit where Britain felt that too many foreigners were coming into the country. The reasoning was that many jobs were being lost to foreigners, which could only be resolved by imposing stricter regulations on migration. Such a solution was not possible because of the EU agreements, which means Brexit allows the country to implement its policies. However, Brexit imposes upon British citizens similar treatment and their migration becomes restricted.

Other effects of Brexit include less access to the European markets as a result of new trade tariffs to be imposed on Britain. However, it can be argued that Britain will have the chance to explore new markets on its own without the restrictions of the EU. New trade agreements can be signed with countries that offer Britain considerable trade benefits. The full extent of the effects of Brexit is yet to manifest itself.

The depreciation of the pound around the announcement of the Brexit is one of the earliest impacts to appear. According to Plakandaras, Gupta, and Wohar (2017), the news of Brexit caused turmoil in both the exchange rates and the global stock markets. The pound is one of the most traded currencies across the world, which means that the information on Brexit was capable of causing great uncertainties in the market. As a result, the pound lost an estimated 15% of its value a few weeks after the Brexit decision was made.

The distribution of the pound decreased after Brexit as many traders sold both the pound and the pound-denominated assets. Additionally, it can be argued that the investors may have suffered losses due to the depreciation. In other words, a 15% loss in the value of the pound could translate into a 15% loss in the value of all assets backed by the pound (Plakandaras, Gupta, and Wohar, 2017). The decline also means that few investors and global organizations are interested in the currency. There has been a substantial decrease in the preference of banks and other financial institutions to hold investments backed by ponds. Therefore, the fall in demand is largely by the investors trying to remove the currency from their portfolio and the unwillingness of the financial institutions to offer an alternative. The large decrease in distribution is caused by uncertainty in the currency because Brexit could cause economic turmoil for the country. The strength of the pound against the euro means that the latter becomes more preferable among investors.

Reference List

Question 1

D’Andrea & Partners (2021). UAE trade agreements: opportunities for investors. Web.

Egel, D., Efron, S. and Robinson, L. (2021) Peace dividend: widening the economic growth and development of the Abraham Accords. Santa Monica, CA.: Rand Corporation.

Hussain, A. (2019) Greater Arab Free Trade Area and practical challenge. pp. 1-9.

Rodrik, D. (2018) ‘What do trade agreements really do?’, Journal of Economic Perspectives, 32(2), pp. 73-90.

Question 2

Ahmad, A. (2020) The Middle East is a growing marketplace, not just a war zone. Web.

Assouad, L. (2020) Inequality and its discontents in the Middle East. Web.

Bloomberg. Trading in the Middle East: 2016 report. New York: Bloomberg.

Jámbor, A., Gál, P. and Török, A. (2020) ‘Determinants of regional trade agreements: Global evidence based on gravity models’, Journal of International Studies, 13(1), pp. 44-57.

Mack, B. (2019) US-China trade war: How will it impact the Middle East?. Web.

Muhammad, B. (2019) ‘Energy consumption, CO2 emissions and economic growth in developed, emerging and Middle East and North Africa countries’, Energy, 179, pp. 232-245.

Pollock, D. (2019) The Middle East and the U.S.-China ‘trade war’. Web.

Question 3

Ha, N., Binh, Q. and Dang, P. (2020) ‘Cultural distance and entry modes in emerging markets: empirical evidence in Vietnam’, Journal of Risk and Financial Management, 13(1), pp. 1-11.

Lee, J., 2021. Masdar to develop solar projects in Iraq. Web.

Lobo, D. and Samad, A. (2021) The mergers & acquisitions review: United Arab Emirates. Web.

Question 4

Ahmed, F., Maheshwari, S. and Mirani, S. (2020) ‘Dubai house prices and macroeconomic fluctuations: a time series analysis’, Pacific Business Review International, 13(1), pp. 61-73.

Calhoun, M. (2018) Lessons from the financial crisis: the central importance of a sustainable, affordable and inclusive housing market. Web.

Duke, J. (2021) Sydney and Melbourne house prices rise tens of thousands of dollars in one month. Web.

Rahman, F., 2021. Dubai property prices record highest monthly jump in seven years. Web.

Question 5

Gupta, P. (2018) Why currency arbitrage trading is a safe way to invest your money. Web.

Osamwonyi, I. and Adeoba, A. (2017) ‘Test of arbitrage in the Nigerian foreign exchange market’, Finance and Banking Review, 11(1&2), pp. 1-12.

Poitra, G. (2021) ‘Origins of arbitrage’, Financial History Review, pp. 1-28.

Question 6

Plakandaras, B., Gupta, R. and Wohar, M. (2017) ‘The effects of Brexit on the pound: towards a currency crisis?’, Finance Research Letters, 21, pp. 206-213.

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