Growing, diverse economy
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is a large export market for the UK. The Department for Business and Trade in the UAE have identified sectors of shared interest which have become more prevalent following COVID-19, including life sciences, clean energy, advanced manufacturing, fin-tech, and financial services.
Dubai is a regional hub and commercial capital for the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. The UAE is a major entry route into other Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and an important market for re-export into other countries. Its liberal trade regime attracts capital from across the region .
There are over 5,000 British companies operating in the UAE, including BP, Rolls Royce, BAES, Mott McDonald, SERCO, Standard Chartered, HSBC and Waitrose. 779 commercial agencies and 4,762 British brands have invested in the UAE. 100,000 UK nationals live in the UAE and 1.5 million people visit each year (pre-COVID).
Top five UK goods exported to United Arab Emirates , in the four quarters to the end of Q3 2023
|Value (£ billion )
|Mechanical power generators (intermediate)
|Telecoms & sound equipment (capital)
Total import value (into the UK from United Arab Emirates) and export value (from the UK into United Arab Emirates) over time
|Imports (£ billion )
|Exports (£ billion )
|Total trade (£ billion )
ONS UK total trade: all countries, seasonally adjusted
Last updated: October 2023
Total trade is the sum of all exports and imports over the same time period.
Download the latest trade and investment factsheet for United Arab Emirates.
United Arab Emirates: at a glance
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High potential industries in the country for UK businesses
There are opportunities for UK companies across a broad range of industries. Our trade advisers in the UAE have identified particular opportunities for UK businesses in the following sectors:
Demand for UK schools and universities
Education is one of the top priorities for the UAE government, which is keen to build a knowledge based economy and position itself as the academic hub in the region. The main areas of focus include digital learning, EdTech, Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) and partnerships with local universities.
Demand for teachers and training
The UAE has a fast growing and young population, and demand for a British education is high and continues to grow. This creates opportunities for UK businesses to provide qualified, skilled UK teachers and teacher training. There is an increasing demand for TVET training and provision.
Demand for UK goods
British education is seen as high quality and along with this the UAE looks to the UK for educational supplies across all levels as these are seen as essential to supplement teaching. There are opportunities, increasingly in digital/EdTech for UK suppliers.
The UAE is interested in in exploring opportunities in hydrogen, particularly with regards to transport. It is still at an early stage in it exploration, there are supply chain opportunities for UK companies and to provide new, innovative transport solutions.
There’s a continuing need for nuclear power in the UAE and the country’s first nuclear power plant is now in operation. There are supply chain opportunities for UK businesses in research and development, waste management, and education and training. Companies willing to invest and enter into joint ventures are welcomed.
Environmental sustainability is a priority for the UAE government as it aims to increase the contribution of renewables to the energy mix. This offers opportunities for UK companies with products which can reduce energy usage. UK businesses will also find growth potential in solar power and waste to energy.
Dubai International Financial Centre
The Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) is an offshore free zone, regulated by the Dubai Financial Services Authority in line with English law. The centre focuses on banking, capital markets, asset management and fund registration, as well as insurance and reinsurance, Islamic finance and professional services.
The Abu Dhabi Global Market
The Abu Dhabi Global Market (ADGM) on Al Maryah Island is the emirate’s fifth financial free zone. It concentrates on private banking, wealth management and asset management. It also operates in line with English law.
Opportunities for UK firms
Both the DIFC and ADGM are home to a number of banks and legal, consultancy and insurance firms, including many from the UK. There are opportunities for more companies in the financial and professional services sectors to set up in these free zones.
Demand for UK clinical expertise and products
Newly built medical facilities offer opportunities for UK companies to fill gaps in provision in areas such as oncology, paediatrics, mental health, primary care, trauma, emergency services and long term rehabilitation. There’s also a need for high quality equipment, digital health solutions, high quality training for staff, facilities management and infrastructure construction.
The UAE aims to develop healthcare infrastructure and help the sector to grow to international standards, opening up opportunities for UK companies. Increased investment is creating attractive opportunities for public private partnerships, while the UAE’s healthcare-focused free zones will attract hospitals and associated medical services, with UK Export Finance support.
Demand for life sciences expertise and productions
The UAE aims to establish collaborations and partnering, providing UK companies with new opportunities including helping develop the local pharmaceutical manufacturing sector and supply chains; opportunities in Advanced Therapeutics including Genomics, Precision Medicine, Cell and Gene Therapy; Artificial intelligence (AI) and Big Data; and MedTech.
Demand for UK expertise
There are opportunities to provide both goods and services for infrastructure projects. There’s demand for general construction, specialist sub-contracting and consulting services, and solutions for green buildings and sustainable infrastructure. Building materials, air conditioning and automation systems, water saving devices, and security and swimming pool equipment are also needed.
Opportunities to collaborate
A number of major infrastructure projects are planned or underway. These include legacy post-Expo 2020 in Dubai, airport building and expansion, rail and metro line projects and island and waterfront developments, as well as the One Central commercial district and a deep-sewer tunnel project in Dubai.
The government continues to spend on infrastructure projects in line with its national development plans. Major growth in infrastructure is predicted as the country moves away from hydrocarbon dependency. The UAE has and continues to use UK Export Finance to fund projects, which opens up the market for UK companies for UK companies.
International travel hub and tourist destination
The UAE’s two airlines, Emirates and Etihad account for huge transit passenger numbers, plus Dubai in particular is a global tourist destination. Airlines, airports, hotels and the service industry require sophisticated and up-to-date physical and cyber security. There is a constant demand in these sectors.
The UAE is a regional financial centre
The Dubai International Financial Centre and Abu Dhabi Global Markets house a number of international financial and professional services firms. They is a high demand for cyber security solutions The UAE is the financial centre for the region and to attract firms it needs to have sophisticated cyber security solutions.
Growing space sector
The UAE has ambitions to grow its space sector, having recently sent a probe to Mars and has a National Space Programme. They aim to become a key regional and international player within the space sector and there are niche opportunities in this new, burgeoning sector.