UAE 'a key market' as Britain aims to double exports by 2030

UK lines up GCC talks as it strives to become be 'global champions of free and fair trade'

Cargo containers at Jebel Ali port in Dubai. The UK is looking to double its exports by 2030, with the UAE vital to that plan. Pawan Singh / The National
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The UAE is a key market for Britain's expanding trade ambitions, as the UK aims to double the number of businesses exporting goods and services across the globe and to cement a trade deal with the wider GCC region.

The British Chamber of Commerce is backing the UK government's plan to export £1 trillion worth of goods and services a year by 2030, a significant increase on the £600bn worth exported in 2020 – with the Emirates and wider GCC region a vital part of that target.

The British Chambers of Commerce, a trade body representing 53 accredited chambers in the UK and 76 overseas, including the British Business Groups in Abu Dhabi and Dubai, is this week touring important sites in the Emirates before the World Chambers Congress in Dubai, which starts on Tuesday.

Boosting trade flow between the UK and UAE is “a huge part of the reason for going to spend time with our business groups” in the Emirates, Shevaun Haviland, director general of the BCC, told The National.

“Trade has taken a bit of a battering over the past few years for us with Brexit and of course Covid, and we want to ensure that our international markets know the UK is open for business and that we're really positive around trade,” said Ms Haviland.

“We also want to think about how we can ensure that trade is grown in green areas too, so what agreements on sustainable goods and services we can develop between the UK and Emirates to make sure that crucial area is growing too.”

On Monday, International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan set out how the UK plans to chart a new course “now that we are once again a truly independent trading nation, and use our newfound freedom to once again become global champions of free and fair trade”.

I don’t think I’ve seen a time where the UK-UAE relationship has been in better shape and more positive
Tim Allen, BBG Abu Dhabi board member

Britain's 2022 approach will see it target countries and blocs worth £140 billion in bilateral trade last year, including the UAE, with plans to boost opportunities via future deals.

The UK will “forge stronger trading relationships with like-minded countries to liberalise trade and open market, put rocket boosters under our exports, and break down the barriers to market access”, Ms Trevelyan said in a speech at the Margaret Thatcher Conference on Trade, hosted by the Centre for Policy Studies.

“So far we have agreed trade deals with 70 countries plus the EU – trade worth a whopping £766 billion every year,” she said. The UK was now “working flat out to forge ambitious deals with like-minded and strategic partners around the world”.

“We are in negotiations to accede to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, one of the world’s largest free trade areas, composed of 11 Pacific nations with dynamic economies from Chile to Malaysia, Vietnam to Peru, boasting a combined GDP of more than £8tn in 2020," Ms Trevelyan said.

“And we have launched our consultation with a view to commencing negotiations with the Gulf Co-operation Council states in the months ahead,” she said.

While trade between the UK and UAE was worth slightly less than £19bn in 2019, the BCC said, this figure had dropped to £12bn by the second quarter of 2021.

“We want to get back to where we were and more,” said Ms Haviland, whose trip to the UAE is her first international assignment since taking on the director general role in March in a further nod to the importance of the region.

During the trip, the BCC delegation will visit Silicon Oasis, Dubai Multi Commodities Centre, Jebel Ali Free Zone and Expo 2020 Dubai, as well as a number of locations in Abu Dhabi where it strives to boost trade between the two countries.

John Martin St Valery, chairman at the BBG Dubai and Northern Emirates, said now is "an open market for all British sectors" looking to engage with the UAE.

"In just the last two weeks we have hosted UK trade missions focused on space, defence, creative, fashion and health. The UAE is very publicly calling on talent to come to the region and whilst the emerging industries are the most talked about – AI, agri-tech, blockchain etc – as Dubai’s population starts to swell again, as does the demand for a fully operational service industry, F&B, real estate and entertainment," he said.

Traditionally, the top exports to the UAE are power generators, cars, scientific instruments and telecoms equipment, Ms Haviland said.

Meanwhile, oil is still the largest import from the UAE, with power generators, metals and jewellery also important. But Ms Haviland said the future of trade lay in the world of technical innovation for greener goods and services that would help both business and consumers make the transition to net zero.

Ms Haviland referred to the “significant” recent expansion of the Strategic Investment Partnership with the UAE as an example of the deals Britain is now forming with the world's largest and fastest growing economies.

The deal, secured in September, saw Mubadala Investment Company commit £9bn to Britain’s technology, infrastructure and energy transition in addition to the £800 million already pledged to the life sciences sector in March, complemented by an injection of £200m from the UK government.

Ms Haviland said the BCC aims to build on the momentum around the deal secured by the UK's Office for Investment, with the delegation striving to add further impetus to the free-trade agreement consultation now taking place between the GCC and UK.

The 14-week consultation period began in October and Ms Haviland said the BCC would ensure its views are shared.

“About 40 per cent of the trade documentation that we do is for the GCC market, so it is a hugely important [source of] revenue for us as we work closely across those markets," she said.

Mr Martin St Valery said with Britain clear about looking to expand trade ties across the world following Brexit, and "the UK-UAE relationship stronger than ever, with more engagement and the appetite of collaboration across the GCC" he expects the Gulf to become increasingly attractive to a currently UK-based company.

Britain last week overhauled its export strategy to highlight the benefits of leaving the European Union, with the new export target of £1tn per year forming a key milestone during international trade and investment week in London.

A new “made in UK, sold to the world” campaign was unveiled, as well as initiatives to boost overseas trade by providing export-linked loans and access to expertise and advice.

The revamped strategy is something BCC is helping to complement not only by communicating the message that Britain is open for business but also by offering advice, guidance on the required documentation and enabling market access.

While only 10 per cent of UK businesses currently export, 60 per cent of the BCC trades goods and services overseas.

One of the reasons the BCC has much higher rates of engagement in international trade is because of the members it has in other countries, such as the British Business Groups in the UAE, Ms Haviland said.

This connection allows the UK and the UAE to trade together, network and find new markets much more effectively, she said.

Tim Allen, board member of the BBG Abu Dhabi, which will host the BCC delegation during its time in the UAE capital, said “clearly a pan-GCC solution will be of paramount importance”, as UK and UAE companies look for investment opportunities in each other’s countries.

“I have been involved in business in the UAE for 10 years and personally I don’t think I’ve seen a time where the UK-UAE relationship has been in better shape and more positive,” Mr Allen told The National.

He highlighted sectors that have already been identified by the SIP, such as energy and life sciences, but said that education and security would also become important.

"[The SIP] sparked a lot of interest, both for companies that are UK-based with offices or presence in the UAE, but also UAE companies that are looking for opportunities to partner to invest in the UK as well. So there's been quite a big uptick on that," he said.

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Updated: November 23, 2021, 10:10 AM