The UAE is Australia’s largest Middle Eastern trading partner and 18th largest overall. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted bilateral trade in 2020. Total goods and services trade amounted to $8.3 billion in 2019-20, lower than $11.2 billion in 2018-19. Australia’s main exports to the UAE included alumina, meat and beef, vehicle parts and accessories and crude petroleum. Australia’s main imports from the UAE are crude and refined petroleum.
There are an estimated 250 Australian companies in the UAE focused on agriculture and food, trade and services in education, construction, engineering, architecture, food and beverage. Many companies use Dubai as a regional base, taking advantage of its strong transport, financial and communications infrastructure to support commercial activity across the Middle East and in Africa.
The COVID-19 pandemic and associated international travel restrictions disproportionately hurt services trade in 2020. Ongoing international travel restrictions points to another challenging year for services exports in 2021. Student enrolments continued to decline in 2020, while tourism arrivals slumped. Beyond the pandemic, education remains an area of potential growth, as Australian institutions have been active in the UAE market for over 20 years. For instance, the University of Wollongong, Murdoch University and Curtin University all have campuses in the UAE. Similarly, the UAE’s high incomes and ongoing partnership between Qantas and Emirates airlines should support recovery in demand for Australian tourism once safe international travel resumes.
The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted bilateral investment flows in 2020. UAE investment in Australia stood at $11.6 billion in 2020, slightly lower than 2019. UAE investors hold significant investments in Australia across infrastructure, utilities, real estate, tourism and hospitality. Australian investment in the UAE amounted to $6.3 billion in 2020. Sectors that offer the most trade and investment opportunities for Australian capabilities are education, agriculture, digital technology, health, defence, infrastructure and resources (in particular, oil and gas).