'Unused' potential in Estonia-UAE relations, says PM

Estonia hopes to share its expertise in e-governance and digital services with the UAE
'Unused' potential in Estonia-UAE relations, says PM
Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas
By Bernd Debusmann Jr
Mon 11 Feb 2019 09:33 AM

There is a “big and unused” potential in the diplomatic and economic relationship between Estonia and the UAE, according to Estonian Prime Minister Juri Ratas.

Speaking at the opening of a new Estonian trade office in the UAE, Ratas said that Estonia hopes to achieve closer ties in a number of sectors, including “IT, communications, technology, construction, fashion, culture and sports.”

During the event and the World Government Summit earlier in the day, Ratas and other Estonian officials revealed that the country has plans to open an embassy in Abu Dhabi in the summer of 2019.

Rene Tammist, Estonia’s Minister of Entrepreneurship and Information Technology, told Arabian Business that Estonia is particularly keen to share its experiences in e-governance and smart city technologies.

“We have a very good case here with Estonia to really offer assistance and advice and serve as an example and showcase of political will and leadership to carry these initiatives through,” he said.

A former Soviet republic in the Baltics, Estonia has modelled itself as one of the world’s foremost leaders in e-governance and services.

According to official government statistics, 99 percent of government services in the country are available online 24-7, with every Estonian issued a digital ID that can be used for banking and to vote, pay taxes and access healthcare records.

In 2014, the country also launched the world’s first “e-residency” programme, which allows people to establish businesses in Estonia without physically residing there. More recently, the country launched a visa system for “digital nomads” who are working remotely away from their own country.

Tammist added that he believes Estonia can help countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia create comprehensive smart governance systems in which “everything is connected”.

“Many countries have set up parts of their governments as e-government services, but very often these services are not connected with each other, or are connected to a central data base which creates some weaknesses in the system,” he said. “We have set up a decentralised data exchange platform.”

Additionally, Tammist said that Estonia was one of the world’s earliest adopters of blockchain – a technology which is now being increasingly explored by the countries of the GCC.

This technology, he said, has increased transparency and improved people’s faith in e-government services.

“Whenever there is an inquiry made about my data, I can always see this. I have a right to ask why my data was asked for,” he said. “This is important, that you have trust.”

Lastly, Tammist said that Estonia hopes that the opening of its Abu Dhabi embassy and its participation in Expo 2020 Dubai will result in significant economic benefits for both countries.

“These are important steps that we hope materialise as good business connections. We are very much hoping for positive outcomes,” he said. “We have set targets and I’m hopeful we will reach them.”

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