UK and Bahrain seal new digital economy partnership

Trade between the two countries nearly doubled annually to a record high of £3.1 billion in 2022

Bahrain and the UK have put in place the building blocks for a new phase of rapidly expanding economic ties during a visit to London by Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad, the country's ambassador has told The National.

Sheikh Fawaz bin Mohammed Al Khalifa said hopes were high for the UK and the wider Gulf Cooperation Council to complete negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement, as two more rounds of the talks are set to start in July and September.

The effect on already burgeoning trade is expected to be exponential.

"It's not oil exports and defence sales any more," Sheikh Fawaz said. "Its wide-ranging, whether it's investments into the UK or investments into the Gulf area, the whole spectrum has grown.

"We are constantly with the UAE in the world's top one or two most investable countries.

"Bahrain wants to take advantage of an FTA that could double trade [between the GCC and UK] that is already quite large.

"There are some high hopes to take advantage of that, particularly if we start linking it with the City of London."

The biggest delegation that Crown Prince Salman has travelled with since becoming Prime Minister in 2020 sealed a number of tie ups with the London financial district on Tuesday during a summit at Mansion House.

The UK and Bahrain signed a digital economy partnership on Tuesday that will boost each other’s technology and service sectors.

The preliminary agreement signed by Kemi Badenoch, the UK's Business and Trade Secretary, and Bahrain's Finance Minister Sheikh Salman bin Khalifa, is designed to enable technical co-operation and focus on consumer and business interests in the digital economy.

The new partnership will help to ensure trade between the UK and Bahrain continues to be modernised and streamlined so that mutual high-growth sectors, such as FinTech, MedTech, AgriTech, cyber and space can prosper.

Trade between the two countries nearly doubled year-on-year to a record high of £3.1 billion ($3.9bn) in 2022, and Tuesday’s agreement comes a day after the Strategic Investment and Collaboration Partnership was signed on Monday overseen by British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Prince Salman.

The ministerial delegation also had talks with James Cleverly, the Foreign Secretary, at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Ministry of Defence.

"We had excellent meetings at Downing St, the FCDO and at Mansion House this afternoon," Sheikh Fawaz said.

"If it is the political, defence or commercial side it's about strengthening the relationship and showcasing the commitment that both countries share.

"Both countries have interest in taking it a step higher and there are now initiatives that we are working on, particularly with the City of London, that will transform digital exchanges between us."

The new sovereign partnership aims to enable additional investment of more than £1 billion into the UK.

The agreements and announcements support the diversification of Bahrain’s economy, and drive greater co-operation between the countries, including in clean technology, business services and manufacturing.

“Today’s agreement is the culmination of a flourishing relationship between the UK and Bahrain, strengthened by our many existing partnerships and synergies across logistics, technology, manufacturing, and more,” said Lord Johnson, the UK's Minister for Investment.

“With the next round of talks expected shortly, a trade deal with the GCC will bring even greater trade and investment opportunities between our countries, helping to grow our economies and create high-skilled jobs in the sectors of the future.”

The digital economy agreement builds on the strong relationship between both countries and sets out the shared vision for the digital transformation of their economies.

Through the partnership, the UK and Bahrain will arrange technical co-operation on matters of mutual interest and concern, particularly focusing on promoting consumer and business interests in the digital economy.

With a framework in place, the UK said it was committed to working with Bahrain to use bilateral forums for progressing these objectives and identifying key projects for collaboration.

Updated: July 04, 2023, 7:45 PM