The Trucial States of the Persian Gulf coast granted the UK control of their defense and foreign affairs in 19th century treaties. In 1971, six of these states - Abu Dhabi, 'Ajman, Al Fujayrah, Ash Shariqah, Dubayy, and Umm al Qaywayn - merged to form the United Arab Emirates (UAE). They were joined in 1972 by Ra's al Khaymah. The UAE's per capita GDP is on par with those of leading West European nations. For more than three decades, oil and global finance drove the UAE's economy. However, in 2008-09, the confluence of falling oil prices, collapsing real estate prices, and the international banking crisis hit the UAE especially hard. The UAE essentially avoided the "Arab Spring" unrest seen elsewhere in the Middle East in 2010-11 and in an effort to stem potential unrest, the government announced a multi-year, $1.6-billion infrastructure investment plan for the poorer northern emirates and aggressively pursued advocates of political reform. The UAE in recent years has played a vital role in regional affairs. In addition to donating billions of dollars in economic aid to help stabilize Egypt, the UAE is a member of a US-led global coalition to defeat the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and a coalition partner in a Saudi-led military campaign to restore the government of Yemen.
The UAE has an open economy with a high per capita income and a sizable annual trade surplus. Successful efforts at economic diversification have reduced the portion of GDP from the oil and gas sector to 30%.Since the discovery of oil in the UAE nearly 60 years ago, the country has undergone a profound transformation from an impoverished region of small desert principalities to a modern state with a high standard of living. The government has increased spending on job creation and infrastructure expansion and is opening up utilities to greater private sector involvement. The country's free trade zones - offering 100% foreign ownership and zero taxes - are helping to attract foreign investors.The global financial crisis of 2008-09, tight international credit, and deflated asset prices constricted the economy in 2009. UAE authorities tried to blunt the crisis by increasing spending and boosting liquidity in the banking sector. The crisis hit Dubai hardest, as it was heavily exposed to depressed real estate prices. Dubai lacked sufficient cash to meet its debt obligations, prompting global concern about its solvency and ultimately a $20 billion bailout from the UAE Central Bank and Abu Dhabi Government that was refinanced in March 2014.The UAE’s dependence on oil is a significant long-term challenge. Low oil prices have prompted the UAE to cut expenditures, including on some social programs, but the UAE has sufficient assets in its sovereign investment funds to cover its deficits. The government reduced fuel subsidies in August 2015, and has announced plans to introduce excise and value-added taxes by January 1, 2018. The UAE's strategic plan for the next few years focuses on economic diversification, promoting the UAE as a global trade and tourism hub, developing industry, and creating more job opportunities for nationals through improved education and increased private sector employment.