UK seeks to build on initial momentum after Great Futures summit in Saudi Arabia

Riyadh conference deepens economic and cultural ties to kick-off a year-long initiative

Delegates chat at the Great Futures event in Riyadh.
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The Great Futures event held this week in Riyadh has boosted trade, investment, educational and cultural links between the UK and Saudi Arabia, as Britain seeks to play an increasing role in the kingdom's Vision 2030 multitrillion-dollar economic transformation programme.

“The Great Futures campaign team delivered a phenomenal event,” Dominic Johnson, the UK's Business and Trade Minister, told The National.

“It was first class. The work the Saudis put into the conference was also huge – it was a partnership.

“We will now make the most of this initial momentum. Every month, we're going to have specific activities along the various different workstreams.”

About 1,500 people from Saudi Arabia and the UK took part in the Great Futures event, which was chaired by Saudi Commerce Minister Dr Majid Al Qasabi and British Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden.

They agreed on an ambitious programme of new co-operation between the two countries, strongly welcomed record levels of trade exceeding £17.3 billion ($21.9 billion) and set a target to increase bilateral trade to £30 billion by 2030.

“This is about leveraging off our 250 years of industrial experience and history, our frameworks, our legal templates, our knowledge around how to build insurance and financial markets, and partner with Saudi Arabia to allow them to achieve their goals,” Lord Johnson told The National.

“The Great Futures event wasn't a trade show – it was a partnership and collaboration event where we can really take advantage of this incredible sense of vision and investment in country and they can take advantage of our intellectual capital.”

Mr Dowden said this was “testament to our nations' friendship and intent on close future collaboration”.

Mr Dowden and Dr Al Qasabi expressed their determination to set in place a comprehensive free-trade agreement between the UK and the GCC.

'The next level'

Great Futures encompassed 20 bilateral ministerial meetings and 50 panel sessions with 130 speakers, while 13 agreements were signed across a broad range of sectors from tourism to education and health care to financial services.

An agreement was signed aiming to expand co-operation in UK-Saudi investment, which reaffirms Britain's commitment to drive investment into the kingdom in areas aligned to Vision 2030.

Saudi Arabia also reaffirmed that London remained a preferred choice as an international capital market centre.

VisitBritain and the Saudi Tourism Authority signed a Declaration of Intent, which set out several areas of co-operation in the tourism sector.

“We’re committed to helping the sector keep growing from strength to strength and I’m delighted that VisitBritain has signed this agreement so we can share the UK’s invaluable expertise on tourism and gain key insights from our Saudi partners,” said UK Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer.

Saudi Tourism Minister Ahmed Al Khateeb said the agreement offered “enormous opportunities for Saudi Arabia and the UK to boost tourism”.

“We are developing remarkable projects that celebrate our unique culture and heritage as part of our $800 billion investment in the Saudi tourism industry, aiming for them to become as iconic as UK attractions like the Tower of London and Stonehenge, and we see limitless potential ahead to welcome visitors from Britain and around the world,” he added.

Meanwhile, Dr Al Qasabi pointed out the deepening trade relationship between Britain and Saudi Arabia, highlighting that bilateral trade increased more than 30 per cent from 2018 to 2023.

Mr Dowden noted that of the 450 people in his delegation, the largest UK trade cohort in a decade and the biggest to visit Saudi Arabia, 70 per cent had never set foot in the kingdom before.

Lord Johnson told The National a senior executive from the UK insurance industry, who was part of the Great Futures delegation, found the experience “completely amazing” and was “totally blown away” by the opportunities in Saudi Arabia.

The Great Futures initiative does not stop with the event in Riyadh. It now becomes a year-long programme aimed a developing and strengthening specific bilateral relationships within the broader Vision 2030 project.

“Britain doesn’t just endorse Vision 2030 – we want to be a part of it,” Mr Dowden said.

“And we want to take that to the next level with Great Futures, turbocharging British businesses’ presence in the kingdom and accelerating the vital business links that make our relationship so valuable.”

Updated: May 17, 2024, 3:31 PM