In an alternative version of the events, one in which things happened differently, we would be convening for this conference in Dubai. There would have been flight tickets and itineraries, boarding and take off, and approaching Dubai from the air to see its grand skyline covering with cool shadows busy streets that have been animated by the bustle of trade for centuries.

Dubai, the most populous of the seven emirates that make up the UAE, has been welcoming ships carrying goods from all over the world for as long as maritime trade existed. The city is and has always been a meeting point for cultures and civilisations that share a willingness to live and prosper; and merchants have walked these streets from the early days of pearl diving to modern-day maritime operations.

The World Customs Organization therefore finds no place more fitting or qualified than Dubai to be the virtual host of the 5th WCO Global AEO Conference; a conference that brings us all together to study successes and challenges and carve a way forward for all of humanity through trade. Dubai was one of the first nations in the region to modernise its communications infrastructure and ensure its future-readiness. Today, the emirate boasts an advanced position in the journey toward a complete digital transformation; one of the building blocks of the knowledge economy.