The Italian Defense Minister, Guido Crosetto, went today on an official visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) for "a series of institutional meetings", as reported by Palazzo Baracchini on its website. This is the first member of the government team led by Giorgia Meloni to go to the State of the Persian Gulf, the first destination market for Italian exports in North Africa and the Middle East.
Crosetto can "leverage on its good relations with semi-institutional interlocutors in the defense industry - such as Leonardo - and benefit from the formal and informal contacts" established by the company with the "monarchies of the Gulf and in particular with the UAE after the diplomatic crisis unleashed under the ministry of Luigi di Maio", he said "Nova Agency" Cinzia White, analyst at the European council on foreign relations (ECFR). The visit takes place after yesterday the Italian ambassador to the Emirates, Lorenzo Fanara, presented his letters of credence to the Vice President, Prime Minister of the UAE and Emir of Dubai, Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, to whom he reiterated "the great friendship of the Italian people and institutions" towards the country.
There are several stages that have seen Minister Crosetto busy today in the capital Abu Dhabi. Before meeting with Tareq Abdul Raheem Al Hosani, the secretary general of the Tawazun Council, the defense and security authority of the United Arab Emirates, with whom he discussed the "strengthening of cooperation" in the fields of defense and security and the "definition of long-term strategic objectives", according to the Italian ministry. Then the visit to the war memorial of Wahat al Karama in Abu Dhabi, a site of high symbolic value for the Emirates, aimed at commemorating the "heroism and sacrifices" of the Emiratis killed in service. Here, after placing a wreath, Crosetto was accompanied by Khalifa bin Tahnoun al Nahyan, executive director of the Martyrs' Families Affairs Office, in visiting the monument, made up of 31 panels, and the rest of the "oasis", a symbol of unity and solidarity between the country's leaders, citizens and the "military heroes", as well as "noble values in the nation", as reported by the Emirate news agency "Wam". The view, however, is still ongoing.
Today's mission comes time after the episode which, in June 2021, risked triggering a diplomatic crisis between Italy and the Emirates after the Abu Dhabi authorities prevented the overflight ban on the Italian Air Force Boeing 767 bound for Herat for the ceremony of the conclusion of the mission of the Italian troops in Afghanistan, in the framework of the NATO Resolute Support operation. The aircraft was carrying a group of about forty Italian journalists heading to the Camp Arena base. The overflight ban followed the Italian government's decision to suspend arms exports to the UAE due to that country's involvement in the war in Yemen. On the occasion, the Farnesina showed the ambassador of the United Arab Emirates, Omar al Shamsi, "the surprise and strong disappointment at an unexpected gesture that is hard to understand". Today the incident seems to have passed and relaunching the bilateral political and economic partnership with the United Arab Emirates is a "priority for Italy", as stated last month by the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Antonio Tajani, following a "cordial conversation" by telephone with the UAE counterpart Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan. A line also pursued by Ambassador Fanara, whose mission began on October 5, who said he intended to give "new impetus" to relations between Italy and the Emirates not only on an economic level, but also on a cultural and political level.
The link between Italy and the Emirates also passes through the defense sector. In fact, the Italian Leonardo has an office in Abu Dhabi. "The collaboration with the Gulf country concerns helicopters, advanced defense systems, technological partnerships and advanced training courses, with the aim of "facing the challenges of the future", reads the Italian company's website. About 90 per cent of the UAE's VVIP aerospace fleet is made up of Leonardo-manufactured helicopters, and the country's armed forces have been equipped with Leonardo technologies since the 70s. Among the technologies present are more than 100 helicopters, systems for secure communications, space technologies and trainers, including the Aermacchi MB-339, chosen for the Al Fursan aerobatic team. In 2021, on the occasion of the Dubai Airshow, Leonardo presented the revolutionary AW609 tiltrotor for the first time in the Middle East, capable of carrying out different types of missions such as passenger transport and healthcare, civil protection and search and rescue.
At the same time, Leonardo offers "advanced solutions for space programs, security services for major events and critical infrastructures as well as systems for physical and IT security". In this regard, in November 2022, the Italian company and the UAE Khalifa University of Science and Technology established an advanced training school for cyber security in Abu Dhabi, a "cyber security academy" which "will leverage and technologies of Leonardo for the protection of digital ecosystems, as well as on the experience of the Cyber & Security Academy that the company has in Italy". Fincantieri also boasts a ten-year presence in the Gulf country, which has lasted since 2008. The UAE Navy has a 90-metre long Abu Dhabi-class corvette and two Falaj 2-class patrol boats, delivered in 2013. In December 2021, then, the Fondo Emirate sovereign Mubadala Investment Company and the Italian shipbuilding group have signed a memorandum of understanding aimed at "launching potential collaborations in the field of advanced technologies and services in the naval, maritime and industrial sectors".
According to what was stated last December by the UAE Minister of State for Foreign Trade, Thani Al Zeyoudi, Italy is the UAE's largest trading partner in the European Union and bilateral non-oil trade set new records in the first nine months of 2022. According to the latest figures from the Agency for Overseas Promotion and Internationalization of Italian companies (ICE) it emerges that the commercial exchange between Italy and the UAE up to October 2022 amounted to 6,6 billion euros, with an increase of 15,5 percent compared to the previous year. In particular, the value of Italian exports to the Gulf country amounted to 5 billion euros, 25,5 percent more on an annual basis, while imports, equal to 1,6 billion euros, recorded a 6 percent decrease. The sectors most involved in Italian exports to the UAE are jewellery, with 1,1 billion euros, mechanics, with 773 billion euros, and agri-food, with 346 million.
On 30 January, Italy was chosen as a "platinum partner" at the annual Arab Health healthcare sector fair, held in Dubai in the presence of regional and international exhibitors. Rome participated with 160 exhibitors, while ICE set up a show focused on issues such as the circular economy and sustainability. "Sustainability is sustainable Italy", reads Ita Dubai's tweet, highlighting how the country supports the Emirates in the path towards COP28, the United Nations climate conference that will be hosted by the Gulf country starting from 30 November 2023 Even earlier, in November 2022, Italy was the guest of honor at the 41st edition of the Sharjah International Book Fair (Sibf), one of the very first book fairs in the world by number of exhibitors (1600), coming from 83 countries, by volumes exhibited and above all by the number of agreements relating to the transfer of translation rights. "A confirmation of the great interest of the UAE public in Italian culture", commented Ambassador Fanara.
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