Interviews

Jiří Slavík: The Emirates Are An Exceptional Country

Published: 20. 4. 2021
Author: Lubor Winter
Photo: Photo archives of Jiří Slavík
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The United Arab Emirates are our strategic partner in the Middle East. The Czech Ambassador to the UAE Jiří Slavík explains how so and what direction our future cooperation could head in.

The World EXPO was set to take place in Dubai from 20th October 2020 to 10th April 2021, but due to the coronavirus pandemic, the date has been postponed to 1st October 2021 to 31st March 2022. Has this shift changed anything for us?

Czechia was one of the first countries that in March 2019 started construction of a national pavilion. From the very beginning, we set conditions for ourselves to make sure we can be effective and adhere to the timetable during the preparation phase. We accepted the decision of the General Assembly of the Bureau International des Expositions of May 2020 to postpone the deadline as a logical step with regard to the situation of the worldwide spread of COVID-19. For us, as for the other participating countries, the postponement of the deadline has created added costs, for which our government has approved additional funding. After my recent visit to the pavilion, I can confirm that Czechia will be ready for the EXPO opening in all respects.

What are we going to present there?

The national pavilion was built according to the design of young Czech architects from the Formosa AA studio. Its technological core is the S.A.W.E.R. system, which collects water from air humidity using solar energy. The system was developed by, and is being further improved by, scientists from the Czech Academy of Sciences and the Czech Technical University. The idea of turning air into water and dry desert into a flowering garden is very characteristic of the United Arab Emirates environment. During the six months of the EXPO, there will be exhibitions on different topics in the pavilion, displayed in a rotating exposition and the topics will emphasize areas in which Czechia excels worldwide. Our national pavilion is located in the Sustainability zone, at one of the main entrances to the exhibition area. I believe that our citizens will come to see the EXPO. They will find a piece of our homeland there, which is rightly called the land of the future.

What do the Emirates want to present? Will their presentation also reflect the fact that this year, on 2nd December, it will have been half a century since their foundation?

For the United Arab Emirates, the EXPO is the largest international event they have ever organized, and since the moment they were assigned as the host country they have been paying special attention to its preparation. Of course, they are also motivated by the fact that the exhibition falls on the year when they celebrate their 50th anniversary. The locals are very proud that this important event is organized by their country. I personally admire the efforts of the Emirates for preparing such a large and demanding project in a time affected by the COVID pandemic. In order for visitors to be able to get an idea of what the upcoming exhibition is going to be like, they can now go see the Terra pavilion in the central building of the Sustainability Zone.

How would you assess the current level of relations between Czechia and the UAE?

Our bilateral relations are excellent, supported at the political level, and also by strong economic cooperation. The UAE is a key partner for us in the Gulf region. They are a major player in the international field and also Czechia’s largest trading partner, in terms of the Arab countries. Our excellent relations are also illustrated by the fact that the UAE has visa-free travel with Czechia and other countries in the Schengen area. In the upcoming period, it will be important to further expand the links on both sides, in areas that have great added value for cooperation.

A number of Czech companies have offices in the UAE. Why do they choose the UAE and not other countries as their gateway to the Middle East region? How are the Emirates different?

The United Arab Emirates is an exceptional country worldwide, with almost 200 nationalities living here. The principle of tolerance is reflected in everyday life and is widely respected. The UAE is coming up with strategic visions and bold projects, which gives it the image of a highly attractive country. For example, in 2019, they had their first astronaut in space, and a few weeks ago, their Hope spacecraft reached the orbit of Mars. Furthermore, the political and social system of the UAE represents a successful combination of the traditional family and tribal system and the Islamic religious traditions coupled with a modern market economy. The Emirates support education, science and research, a liberal approach to foreigners and general religious tolerance. The country is making significant legislative changes regarding the personal status of the population, gender equality, social life, economic rules and personal freedoms, which significantly affect the daily lives of locals and foreigners. The changes in the laws are part of the UAE 's long - term plan for achieving a balanced, tolerant, multicultural and economically developed society. All this results in, among other things, an influx of further investment and human and financial capital.

What image does Czechia have in this country?

It has a very good reputation throughout the region. That is mainly thanks to the human potential of Czech citizens, a high degree of education and expertise, knowledge of languages, the ability to make contacts and adapt to local living conditions. Our country is perceived as industrially advanced and its diversified economy is an example for the UAE to achieve one of their strategic objectives. Our strength is the fact that we can export first-class products and at the same time are ready to bring the technologies that are of great interest in the UAE. In addition, Czechia traditionally enjoys a reputation as an ideal tourist and spa destination – many Emiratis like to come to us to get spa treatments, rehabilitation and physiotherapy.

Czech exports to the UAE are dominated by PC components, telecommunications equipment, weapons and food. What economic sectors do you see to have further potential for Czech exporters, or for investors?

Analysis of the possibilities for further expansion of economic cooperation is our daily priority. We see interesting opportunities mainly in the automotive, chemical, glass and construction industries, in railway transport and in the field of information technologies, electrical engineering, energy, healthcare and pharmacy. In general, the UAE have a highly competitive market environment. Only strong players who have quality products and a sophisticated strategy can succeed there. Being able to apply the goods and services on the local market is of high added value, which has recently been proven by the increased interest in our information technologies, during the digitization of public administration, ensuring the security of data networks and the expansion of smart applications. It is also beneficial for, Czech exporters and investors to take into account the specificities of the UAE environment in their business plans, such as the promotion of renewable energy sources, technologies for the expansion of fertile land, water recycling and the like. They can reap great benefits from doing so.

What specific events for Czech investors and exporters are you planning in the next twelve months?

We would like to continue in our business missions, however, this hinges upon overcoming the COVID pandemic. We are motivated by the successful February participation of Czech companies in the IDEX 2021 defence industry fair in Abu Dhabi and the Gulf Food agricultural and food fair in Dubai. Of course, we have the highest hopes for the EXPO exhibition, and we expect our political representatives will come on particular business missions. During the EXPO we are preparing to sign an agreement on economic and technical cooperation, based on which we could schedule the first meeting of a joint commission. Another plan during the EXPO is to launch projects to support economic diplomacy focused on spas and healthcare, glassmaking and the presentation of Czech food products.

What are generally the biggest mistakes made by Czech exporters and investors, who attempt to penetrate the UAE market, or the markets of the Middle Eastern countries in general?

Exporters and investors must be very well prepared for entry. It is not only about knowledge of the business environment, local legislation and regulations, but also about understanding the cultural and social specifics of the country. The key is choosing a local partner who must fit the tandem from the very beginning of the cooperation and work synergistically in favour of the business plan. There is a number of successful Czech companies and many of them grouped into the Czech Business Council in Dubai. But some work independently. I am convinced that sharing experiences is the basis of future success and that there is no shortage of good advice among our entrepreneurs. In any case, we are ready to help at the embassy in Abu Dhabi or at the Czech Trade office in Dubai.

How do you spend your free time in the United Arab Emirates?

For us Czechs this country offers options that we do not have back home. From November to March, when we have cold and often bad weather back home, the climate here is ideal for trips to the desert and relaxation by the sea. For me personally, the sea is the main place to wind down - I like to swim, fish, go kayaking ... In this context, I want to emphasize one more thing. The Emirates are a very safe country. In today's world, safety is not to be taken for granted - in many places we are witnessing sudden security incidents that have a negative impact on everyday life. I appreciate all the more the safe life in the Emirates and the efforts of the Federal Emirate Government, which is able to ensure these conditions through its decisions and measures.

CV BOX

Ing. Jiří Slavík, CSc. (Born 15th October 1954 in Karviná) has been the Czech Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates since 2019.

He graduated from the Institute of Geophysics of the Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences in Prague, as a Candidate of Sciences in Geophysics (1992) and from the University of Transport and Communications in Žilina, as an Engineer in Technical Cybernetics.

#From 1999 to 2000, he worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in the departments of diplomatic protocol and EU policies, then for five years at the embassy in Italy as an Embassy Counsel for EU affairs. For the next two years, he returned to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as the Ambassadorial Counsel for EU Affairs.

From 2007 he worked for four years at the embassy in Egypt, at first as Deputy Ambassador and then as Chargé D'affaires. For the next three years, he served at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Department. From 2014 to 2018, he was Ambassador to Saudi Arabia with accreditation for Bahrain, Oman and Yemen.

#He is married and has two children. Speaks English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Polish and Arabic.


Visualization of the Czech pavilion at the EXPO exhibition (Photo: Jindřich Ráftl, Jan Tůma / Formosa AA).

European vs. arabic style

Getting an Arab partner on your side is a long--term process that cannot be rushed. The key moment is daily preparation, preferably directly in the country of operation, and building contacts on a personal basis. "It is important to realize that the funds and efforts invested don’t have to have an immediate effect, it requires patience and determination. Negotiations face-to-face establish mutual trust in relationships. And even here it applies that the credibility of the business relationship is strengthened by reliable references, " Jiří Slavík says.

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