'Good progress' made in free trade talks between GCC and UK

UK government confirms that fifth round of talks aimed at creating a free trade agreement with the GCC successfully concluded in Riyadh

Containers are seen at Abu Dhabi's Khalifa Port, UAE. A UK-GCC FTA could be worth £61.5 billion, according to the UK government. Reuters
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The latest round of trade talks between the UK and the GCC made “good progress” towards the creation of a free-trade agreement (FTA), the British government officially announced.

The fifth round took place in Riyadh between 5-16 November with a number of UK negotiators travelling to the Saudi capital and others attending the talks virtually.

“Draft treaty text was advanced across the majority of chapters,” the UK government said.

“Technical discussions were held across 21 policy areas over 40 sessions.”

The UK's Business and Trade Minister, Dominic Johnson, told The National that the key to doing any trade was to “keep momentum and goodwill on both sides”.

“We’re very committed and determined to doing a deal with the GCC – they are massive treading partners of the UK.

“So, the symbiotic relationship between the Gulf states and the UK is pretty unparalleled in terms of the purity of the economic advantage.”

Latest calculations project that a UK-GCC FTA would be worth around £61.5 billion.

'Comprehensive agreement'

The UK's department of business and trade said a future FTA would be “a substantial economic opportunity and a significant moment in the UK-GCC relationship” and announced that a sixth round of talks is expected to take place in the first quarter of next year.

On average talks to create FTAs usually take 12 rounds.

Analysts say the initial stages of trade negotiations are the easiest, while the later rounds are trickier and more complex as the focus becomes tighter and the details finer.

“These things do take time, especially when you’re dealing with six countries and 30-plus chapters,” Simon Penney, a former UK trade commissioner for the Middle East and now head of the Middle East at Gemcorp Capital, told The National.

“Once you start getting into the nitty-gritty of regulations and individual tariffs against individual line items, it will take time to get there.

“But we are confident. We wouldn’t have got into this if we did believe in it and I’m confident we will strike a comprehensive agreement, which we hope to do as soon as we possibly can.”

Updated: November 23, 2023, 8:53 AM