Bahrain earmarks August 2023 deadline for UK-GCC trade deal

Zayed Alzayani suggests date for talks to be finalised, while British negotiators highlight 'clear political will' for agreement

The UK's International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan meeting GCC ministers in Riyadh last month. Fresh talks on a free-trade agreement are now under way. Photo: GCC
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A much-anticipated free-trade deal between the UK and Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) countries could be completed within a year, a leading Bahraini politician has told an event in London.

Speaking alongside British trade negotiators at an event hosted by the Arab British Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, Zayed Alzayani threw down the gauntlet with an ambitious August 2023 deadline for the deal to be finalised.

Bahrain's Minister of Industry and Commerce said: “We're looking at August next year. So we're looking at 12 months. We want to push for that. Certainly the GCC is ready for the challenge."

UK Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan met officials in Saudi Arabia and the UAE last month for initial trade talks with the GCC.

Since leaving the European Union in 2020, Britain has completed only three free-trade agreements (FTAs), with Australia, New Zealand and Japan.

Under the current negotiations, an FTA with the six GCC members — Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman — is thought to be worth $1.6 billion a year to the UK economy.

Mr Alzayani said the GCC was “very much committed” to reaching a trading agreement and had created a “dedicated team” to streamline the process. “To have the counterparties dealing with one point of contact instead of six will expedite the process,” he said.

The UK’s chief negotiator said the first round of talks would start virtually this summer, fuelled by “a very clear political will on both sides to get this done at pace”.

Tom Wintle of the DIT said: “What matters is the content and getting the best deal for the British consumer. And I'm very certain that my GCC counterparts will have exactly the same driver on their side.”

The GCC is already the UK’s seventh largest export market and the DIT expects an FTA to boost trade “by at least 60 per cent a year”.

Ben Parfitt, a negotiator on Mr Wintle’s team, said: “We believe that the greatest proportional gains in the UK are in manufacturing, vehicles, textiles, apparel, but there are benefits to be felt across the economy, including in services and digital trade as well.”

With the UK’s economic outlook dampened by soaring inflation – currently at 9.4 per cent – precipitated by a cost-of-living crisis and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, a

A free-trade deal would reduce or remove tariffs on UK food and drink exports to GCC member states. Current rates range from 5 per cent to 25 per cent on various products.

An FTA would boost investment in renewables to help reduce carbon emissions, and create significant benefits for British farmers and producers, as the Gulf is highly dependent on imported food. A deal would also create more job opportunities, as well as increase investment between the UK and the GCC.

Despite the current political uncertainty in Britain, Mr Wintle said UK commitment to a deal would remain unchanged regardless of who becomes the country’s next prime minister.

“I think the political will to get this done will be unchanged,” he said. “And certainly that the day-to-day contacts between myself and … the negotiation teams will remain unchanged. And that desire to deliver that commitment, whomever our prime minister is, will stay.”

Updated: July 20, 2022, 1:33 PM