Abu Dhabi (AFP) – Japan and its top trade partner in the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates, agreed on Monday to expand economic, political and defence cooperation.
Tokyo and Abu Dhabi also signed an investment protection agreement, capping off a two-day visit by Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to the oil-rich Gulf state.
Abe arrived late Sunday on the first leg of a Middle East tour which will also take him to Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories.
In a joint statement, the two countries praised growing trade between them.
They “stressed the importance of further enhancing trade, investments, and business such as renewable energy, sustainable water desalination … artificial intelligence, health care and medical equipment,” the statement said.
They also reiterated their commitment to diversify joint business ventures in the non-energy sector, and stressed the need to boost defence cooperation.
The UAE is Japan’s main trading partner in the Middle East, accounting for about a third of Tokyo’s trade in the region.
It is also Japan’s second-largest supplier of crude oil, accounting for almost a quarter of its needs and more than half the trade volume between them last year — $28 billion — was energy-related.
Press secretary of the Japanese foreign ministry Norio Maruyama told reporters in Abu Dhabi the two countries are expected to sign a memorandum of defence cooperation next month.
He also said the agreement for the promotion and protection of investment will likely boost investments by both countries.
Abe held talks with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and deputy supreme commander of UAE armed forces Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahayan.
– ‘Strategic relationship’ –
On Monday, Abe hailed cooperation with the UAE as a “strategic relationship” and welcomed Abu Dhabi’s renewal of oil concessions with Japanese oil firms.
“Over the past five years since I last visited Abu Dhabi, our bilateral relations have made dramatic progress to a relationship that has been called a strategic relationship,” he told a UAE-Japan business forum.
Top executives from Japan’s leading business groups addressed the forum, highlighting projects underway in the UAE as well as future plans.
“On this visit, we are accompanied by 27 companies representing Japan with a delegation of top business leaders,” Abe said.
In February, Abu Dhabi’s state energy company ADNOC said it had awarded Japan’s INPEX a 10 percent stake in Lower Zakum offshore oil concession, in a 40-year deal worth $600 million.
ADNOC also said it had extended INPEX’s 40 percent stakes in Abu Dhabi’s Satah and Umm Al-Dalkh concessions for another 25 years.
In 2017, trade volume between the two countries increased 10.5 percent to $28 billion, with Japan’s exports accounting for $7.2 billion — a drop of 10 percent from the previous year, according to official figures released by the Japanese embassy in Abu Dhabi.
Meanwhile, representatives of Japan, Jordan, Israel and the Palestinians held a meeting on the Jordanian banks of the Dead Sea on Sunday night to discuss their “corridor for peace and prosperity” initiative.
Japan’s Foreign Minister Taro Kono told reporters the initiative — which aims to promote regional cooperation including through the creation of an agro-industrial park in the West Bank — was making progress.
“Today, we are witnessing tangible results. Our efforts have finally started to bear fruits,” Kono said.
He said the initiative is vital for economic development in the Palestinian territories and the Jordan valley.