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Yousef Al Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates ambassador to the United States and Mexico, spoke to Kellogg students Oct. 15.

Yousef Al Otaiba

A history lesson

The United Arab Emirates safeguards its economy with a diverse investment portfolio, says Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba

By Amy Trang

10/22/2009 - The United Arab Emirates does not want history to repeat itself.

In the 1930s, the country’s dependence on one commodity led to a depression, said Yousef Al Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates ambassador to the United States and Mexico. Today, the country of nearly 6 million people is a world leader in economic growth and prosperity.

Al Otaiba shared his country’s journey with Kellogg students in a talk on Oct. 15. The ambassador was in town to inaugurate the first non-stop flight from Chicago to the United Arab Emirates via Etihad Airways.

The United Arab Emirates was known for its natural pearl industry in the early 1900s. But the Japanese created a cultured pearl technology that reduced the United Arab Emirates’ market share in the gemstone, leading to the country’s economic downfall, Al Otaiba said.

Today, that bitter post-pearl depression reminds the country’s leaders to avoid focusing all economic activity on one resource, such as oil, Al Otaiba said. The government maintains a diverse investment portfolio, which includes strategic international partnerships with companies such as Hyatt, Rolls Royce and Lockheed Martin.

Al Otaiba said that his country embraces globalization and is the largest market in the Arab world for U.S. goods and services. Johns Hopkins Medicine, New York University and the Louvre are planning or have opened locations in the United Arab Emirates as well.

“The pearl industry may be gone, but our future may never have been so secure,” he said.

Al Otaiba said that although the United Arab Emirates may owe much of its richness to hydrocarbons, the country has invested about $15 billion in research and development in renewable energies. The country’s goal is to have 10 to 15 percent of its electricity come from renewable energies and another 20 to 30 percent from nuclear energy by 2030.

During his presentation, the ambassador was asked about the country’s stance on various subjects, including terrorism, trade relations and its relationship with neighboring countries.

“The success we have in the U.A.E., we’re trying to replicate in countries around us,” Al Otaiba said. “We’re trying to set a good example in the region.”