What new initiatives is the U.S.-U.A.E. Business Council involved in?

SEBRIGHT: The U.S.-U.A.E. Business Council is involved in a number of initiatives with the governments of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Sharjah, and Ras Al Khaimah, helping to promote trade and commerce between the two countries. Most importantly, we are working to roll out a number of initiatives in the areas of tourism and culture in 2012. We are also working in the United States to help get the message out in various markets. Whether it is Los Angeles, Seattle, Atlanta, Houston, Dallas, or Chicago, we want to spread the message that the Emirates are a close partner and friend to the United States. The culture and the way of life here is common in many ways to culture and family values in the United States.

How much trade is there between the US and the UAE? Where does each country rank as a foreign trade partner?

SEBRIGHT: Trade statistics between the US and the UAE are arrived at by both of our governments. In 2010, the value of US trade to the UAE was just short of $13bn, it was $12.8bn, making the UAE our largest trading partner in the Middle East, beyond Israel, beyond Egypt, and beyond any of the other Gulf countries. Trade from the UAE into the United States was also just under $2bn. Statistics for 2011 are not out yet, but we have some early numbers that show that, despite recession and economic problems, the numbers are going to be even better than they were in 2010. So we should surpass $13bn when it is all said and done for 2011.

In what areas do you see the biggest opportunities to increase commercial links between the US and the UAE?

SEBRIGHT: There are a number of areas where trade and commerce between the US and UAE can be increased and improved. I tell my American companies that want to come here to do business to look at the UAE’s requirements; to look at the Abu Dhabi 2030 plan, the 2020 Vision; and to look at the areas the UAE has identified that it wants to see grow. They are focused on building new sectors for the future and whether that is in tourism and hospitality, medicine and education, infrastructure, energy, or even high tech, these are all areas the UAE has identified for growth in the future and that is where American companies can bring the most to the table and can contribute and compete and win business in the future here in the United Arab Emirates. One broad thematic area of cooperation between the US and the UAE is knowledge transfer, knowledge growth, and knowledge capital. American companies have a lot to bring to the table with regard to innovation and high tech; they are at the cutting edge in many sectors and many industries. They have been for many years and they continue to be. The UAE hopes to take advantage of that by having those companies come here, set up shop, and promote innovation in this country and bring Emiratis along in the process. This will create new business sectors for Emiratis in the future by using and utilizing the strengths of America’s best companies.

What can US companies offer the UAE with regard to healthcare and education?

SEBRIGHT: Education and healthcare are two critical issues that the UAE’s leaders face for the future. They very much want to provide jobs for the future for the youth that are coming up in this country. One way to do that is through education and providing a very high quality education for their youth for the future so that they can be competitive in the global economy. New York University, Harvard, etc. all of these are major American institutions that have taken root here in the UAE and are growing for the future. There are going to be many more in the years to come and the American educational system has a lot to bring to the table. Equally, in the area of medicine, Cleveland Clinic and Johns Hopkins are relatively new entrants into the mix here in healthcare in the United Arab Emirates. These American institutions are going to be at the forefront of working with the UAE to solve some of the healthcare problems. Gone will be the days when Emiratis and other GCC nationals have to go back to the US or go back to Europe for high quality healthcare. Very soon, they are going to be able to get the same high quality healthcare in this country and provide it to their citizens in the future right here at home. Teaching and training Emiratis is part of that as a key goal for the Emirate's modernization plan.

What are the greatest challenges when doing business in the UAE?

SEBRIGHT: I would say that some of the biggest challenges that foreign companies face doing business here, and particularly American companies, have to do with culture, distance, and patience. American companies are halfway around the world and many of them are not global players and not major exporters. For them to make the decision to come to the UAE and learn about the opportunities here is a huge time and resource commitment. It also requires them to understand how business is done in this part of the world. Business is built on relationships; built and maintained. Many Americans can be impatient and they want to come in and sign the deal on a Tuesday and leave again on a Wednesday and business just is not done here that way. So I tell many American companies that are not familiar with doing business in the region to have patience, take the time to do their due diligence, and get to know their potential partners on the ground.

What is your economic outlook for the UAE?

SEBRIGHT: The year ahead is going to be challenging both in the region and at home. The United Arab Emirates and the United States are close friends and partners and many people do not understand the very close security and defense relationship that exists between the two countries. Building on that relationship is a very vibrant commercial and trade relationship. Despite the economic challenges that both countries face, that we all face, and navigating this complex global economy, I have a very optimistic view of where the trade and commercial relationship is going to go for the next few years. We have common values. There is transparency here and there is rule of law here. These are very important qualities and considerations for Americans doing business here. I am very confident that based on the UAE’s commitment to certain sectors and certain business opportunities that this country is ripe for American business for the future.