GCC chief visits London as UK seeks post-Brexit trade deals

Negotiations for 'modern, comprehensive agreement' to begin in early January

Dr Nayef Al Hajraf received his PhD from the UK's University of Hull. Reuters
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A GCC delegation will hold talks with the UK government on Friday to launch preparations for a potential trade deal.

A 14-week consultation period has begun, with the public and business invited to share their views, while negotiations for a deal will begin early next year.

The Secretary General of the GCC, Dr Nayef Al Hajraf, and members of the Bahraini government will hold bilateral talks with the UK's International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan. Bahrain currently holds the rotating presidency of the GCC.

“A trade agreement with the Gulf Cooperation Council is a huge opportunity to liberalise trade with a growing market for British business and deepen ties with a region that is vital to our strategic interests,” said Ms Trevelyan.

“We want a modern, comprehensive agreement that breaks down trade barriers to a huge food and drink market and in areas like digital trade and renewable energy which will deliver well-paid jobs in all parts of the UK,” she added.

GCC-UK bilateral trade was worth more than £30 billion ($40.88bn) in 2020 alone.

The UK government is seeking ambitious trade deals in the post-Brexit era. It comes less than a month after the announcement of a UK-UAE Investment Partnership, which will involve the UAE investing £10bn in UK clean energy, technology, life sciences and infrastructure over the next five years.

“The nations forming the Gulf Cooperation Council are, together, one of our biggest trading and investment partners and are home to over 50 million people,” said the UK's International Trade Minister Ranil Jayawardena.

“From exports of Welsh lamb and Scotch beef, to biscuits from Belfast and financial services from the City of London, I am determined to strike a deal that will further cement our relationships, attract investment, promote trade opportunities and provide significant benefits for British business, creating jobs in communities across the country.”

The Department for International Trade said a deal would “take our relationship to the next level in industries of the future,” including green growth and digital services.

It said UK businesses could have opportunities in renewable energy and supporting the transition away from oil.

“Financial and digital services companies, along with education and healthcare providers could also strengthen their position in a region that holds UK expertise in high regard,” the department said.

Paul Benton of the Association of British HealthTech Industries, said: “As the economies of the region have matured and diversified in recent years, we have seen a significant demand for proven UK HealthTech, and enhanced trade opportunities with the region will only boost this further.

“We look forward to engaging with the consultation, with the aim of supporting UK innovators to build lasting relationships with the GCC members, so that world-class HealthTech can reach more patients.”

On Wednesday, Ms Trevelyan, underlined the government’s desire to hammer out agreements to “create jobs and opportunities and create wealth across the UK and around the world”.

“Using our new freedom to negotiate our own free trade agreements to chart a new course for our country — a truly Global Britain,” she told the Conservative Party conference.

Ms Trevelyan’s predecessor Liz Truss is now Foreign Secretary.

Diplomats from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain called on the British government to strike a rapid deal for a free-trade agreement with the region during the Conservative Party conference this week.

They suggested that with Brexit now resolved, Britain was open for business that could only benefit both the UK and the Middle East.

During an event hosted by the Conservative Middle East Council (CMEC), the high-level panel was asked about the opportunities for the region after Britain formally left the European Union.

“We're looking forward to a free-trade agreement for the GCC,” said Fawaz bin Mohammed Al Khalifa, Bahrain’s ambassador to London. “We need to simplify it to make it just about trade, I think that will go a long way and make it easier to design.”

The UAE's Ambassador to the UK, Mansoor Abulhoul, also spoke about the positive impact of a trade deal. “Our economies generally complement one another in sectors so I think there's real high ambition there to strike a competitive free trade agreement,” he said. “The long history that we have together, I think that's something that plays in well to global Britain.”

Mr Abulhoul added: “I think the GCC is very ambitious in its desire to liberalise the visa regime and make it easier for citizens to visit [Britain] and spend on the economy.”

Saudi Arabia’s emissary also argued for greater British investment in the region, during the event in Manchester titled Global Britain and the Middle East: Challenges and Opportunities.

“We are looking for greater investment from the UK into our part of the world, it's not one-way traffic,” said Prince Khalid bin Bandar Al Saud. He added that the kingdom would soon announce some significant investment projects in the UK.

He also reflected on the tough period when the British government was absorbed by its divorce from the EU. “It was a difficult time to engage with the British government for a number of years because the focus was so much on Brexit,” he said. “Now we're starting to get communication back up again, which is a very positive thing. There is so much scope for the United Kingdom to do a lot with our part of the world”.

He said that with its imperial legacy, Britain “knows how to deal with the world”, and with better relationships “we can build to make you become global Britain again”.

Dr Al Hajraf, who previously served as Kuwait’s Minister of Finance before taking on his current role, received his PhD from the business school of Hull University, UK.

Updated: October 08, 2021, 11:13 AM