UAE weapons show draws major deals, traders amid pandemic

ABU DHABI (AP) – In spite of the surging coronavirus pandemic, major arms makers descended on Sunday on a convention centre in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), hoping to make deals with militaries across the Middle East.

The UAE unveiled USD1.36 billion in local and foreign arms deals to supply its forces with everything from South African drones to Serbian artillery. Although the figure surpasses the 2019 show’s opening announcement, defence experts anticipate a drop in military spending this year as the pandemic and slumping global oil prices squeeze budgets in the
Persian Gulf.

The biennial trade fair, the International Defence Exhibition and Conference, is Abu Dhabi’s first major in-person event since the outbreak of the virus – a sign of its significance to the oil-rich sheikhdom that has maintained tight movement restrictions in recent months.

Zoom wouldn’t suffice for the 70,000 attendees and 900 exhibitors who rely on the largest weapons expo in the Mideast to scout for potential clients and hawk their latest wares, from armoured vehicles to ballistic missiles.

With hand sanitiser as ubiquitous as sterile drone displays, the pandemic’s effects remained visible. Significant national pavilions were absent, including the United States (US), the world’s largest arms exporter. Big American companies turned up but kept a low profile.

But scores of other countries had no qualms showing up during the pandemic, underscoring how many have boosted their arms exports in the region.

The flow of weapons in the Middle East has increased by 61 per cent over the past five years, according to a recent report from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, amid grinding proxy wars in Libya, Syria and Yemen.

China, which boasts the world’s second-largest arms-manufacturing industry, enticed passers-by with a real-sized ballistic missile called “Fire Dragon”. At state-owned Norinco, business manager Luo Haopeng remarked that China had increased its floor space this year. “This kind of equipment is not like food or clothes,” he said, gesturing toward the giant missile display.

A military delegation visits a display at the International Defence Exhibition and Conference in Abu Dhabi. PHOTO: AP