The UK and the members of the Gulf Co-operation Council already have an excellent relationship. Our ties with all six states are underpinned by history and a proven UK role in protecting Gulf security.
Tens of thousands of Gulf citizens consider London a home from home, while increasing numbers of Britons live and work everywhere from Dubai to Doha.
These bonds are reinforced by the deep trade and investment links our nations share.
London’s skyline is testament to the huge investment GCC members have pumped into the UK in recent years. Of course, this investment is not just restricted to gleaming office blocks – it is making a real difference to people’s lives by supporting thousands of jobs across the country.
Equally, demand for UK goods and services is booming throughout the Gulf. Already the region is equivalent to the UK’s seventh largest export market, with total trade worth £33.1 billion ($40.5bn) last year.
Our nations already boast a proud record of collaboration on trade matters. The £10bn UAE-UK Sovereign Investment Partnership that is driving significant investment into a range of key sectors is one example.
However, it stands to reason that we build on all these achievements and further deepen our relationship with the GCC.
I’m delighted that this week we have started doing exactly that, with the launch of negotiations towards a UK-GCC Free Trade Agreement.
During my visit to Riyadh I met the GCC Secretary General Dr Nayef Falah M Al Hajraf and my counterparts from all six GCC countries, to formally launch the FTA. Together, we discussed how we can shape a comprehensive ambitious and modern FTA, fit for the 21st century.
These talks mark a major milestone for the UK as it strikes out in the world as an independent trading nation, following its departure from the European Union. Indeed, they are a highlight of our Five Star Year of Trade, during which we’ve already launched talks with India, Mexico and Canada.
A UK-GCC FTA could throw open a door to the region’s vibrant economies for UK firms in sectors ranging from agri-business to financial services.
In turn, these firms’ expertise and experience could support GCC members to meet the challenges of a changing world.
As The National’s readers will be aware, the Gulf’s economies are transforming rapidly. The UK is in a strong position to support this process.
We are already a manufacturing powerhouse and a world leader in a host of industries including technology, cyber, life sciences, education, AI and financial services.
We are also a trailblazer in the field of renewable energy.
Here, there’s a real opportunity for our businesses expertise and experience to support GCC nations' move to cleaner forms of power and away from reliance on hydrocarbons.
To give an example, the UAE, which will host the Cop28 climate summit next year, has set a target of generating half of its electricity from renewable sources by 2050.
However, right now, exports of UK wind turbine parts face tariffs of up to 15 per cent. If we reduce them, British companies will be better able to help the UAE in achieving its green energy goals.
Digital services is another area where UK businesses will be able to support the GCC over the coming decades.
The agreement could enable our economies to seize the opportunities that will emerge in this sphere — both those that already exist and those that have yet to be imagined.
It goes without saying, that an agreement with the GCC would be very significant for the UK, too. In fact, my department has forecast that it could generate an additional £1.6bn a year for our economy.
In addition, with consumer demand across the GCC predicted to increase to £800bn by 2035, this deal could act as a launchpad from which our firms can boost their market share.
Importantly, we want businesses right across the UK economy to see the benefits:
The food and drink sector exported £625 million worth of goods to GCC countries last year. A deal could significantly reduce or remove tariffs on these items. This would provide a big boost for British farmers and producers. It would also lead to more choice in supermarket shelves across the Gulf.
In addition, an FTA would also be a big boost to the more than 10,500 small and medium-sized businesses that exported goods to the Gulf in 2020. Of course, the Gulf’s many British-owned small businesses would also benefit from the high-quality goods and innovation, for which the UK is renowned.
In short, an FTA is a win-win for both the GCC and the UK. Whether you are based in Alnwick or Abu Dhabi, you could reap its rewards.
I’m excited by these opportunities. I know my counterparts across the region feel the same. I greatly look forward to discussing how we will turn them into reality.
Anne-Marie Trevelyan is the UK's Secretary of State for International Trade