British companies looking to break into new markets in the post-Brexit climate should look to the Arab world for opportunities amid “very promising” negotiations between the UK and the Gulf Co-operation Council, according to the head of the Arab British Chamber of Commerce.
Bandar Reda, Secretary General and chief executive of the ABCC, expects a free trade deal to be struck “very soon”, opening wide the doors for jobs and investment on both sides.
Talks aimed at securing an agreement kicked off in June between the UK’s Conservative government and the GCC, made up of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Oman.
The ABCC has since played an important role in the discussions as a supporter of the GCC.
In an interview with The National, Mr Reda struck an optimistic note on the potential for a robust deal.
“The talks are very promising,” he said. “I think there’s great hope that this FTA will be accomplishable.
“After Brexit, the UK is looking for new countries to do FTAs with and … I think the Chamber are playing a major role in facilitating that.”
The UK government predicts a deal with GCC nations would increase trade by at least 16 per cent and add at least £1.6 billion ($1.85bn) a year to the British economy. It is also tipped to contribute an additional £600 million to British workers’ annual wages.
Mr Reda estimated the financial benefits could be even greater, saying a pact had the potential to add as much a £3bn to the UK economy.
“It’s going to open tonnes of opportunities for jobs and investment,” he said.
The Chamber will on Wednesday welcome hundreds of delegates to its second British economic summit in London, where it aims to create a space for dialogue between influential players.
Mr Reda said British business owners looking to break into new markets or forge new partnerships would be interested in what the event offers.
“I encourage all UK business leaders to come and attend and to listen to senior speakers from both sides — the UK and the GCC,” he said. “They will give updates and they will give us the true and transparent objectives on an FTA.
“I think a deal will happen soon. And I think what we hope to see with this FTA is a boost for the UK economy very, very quickly.”
Among the line — up of speakers are “a lot of influential key leaders in the Arab world and the GCC”, he said.
These include Zayed Alzayani, Bahrain’s minister of industry and commerce, Mohamed Juma Al Musharrakh, chief executive at Sharjah FDI, and Sheikh Kahlifa Bin Jassim Bin Mohammed Al Thani, chairman of Qatar Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
The increasing role women are playing in trade and business will also be reflected at the gathering, with several leading females in the industry addressing the audience.
Haifa Fahoum Al Kaylani, president and founder of the Arab International Women’s Forum, and Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean, chairwoman of the ABCC, are among the line-up.
Mr Reda said the opportunities for women to seize in doing business in the Arab world have never looked brighter. He pointed out that half of all employees at the ABCC are women and the majority of interns are female.
He said women’s increasingly powerful positions in boardrooms in Arab nations would go a long way towards helping countries achieve equality for all.
“Talent is the key factor,” he said.
“Over the past five to seven years we have seen massive changes in leadership positions whether it’s in government or in the private sector.
“I can see a lot of young women and experienced, older females in management roles, ministers in government. They are excelling and they are extremely qualified.”
In an updated issued earlier this month, the UK government said the first round of talks with the GCC had concluded.
In a statement, London said a deal would bring “substantial economic opportunity” for the UK and mark “a significant moment” in the country’s relationship with the GCC.
“Both sides have committed to secure an ambitious, comprehensive and modern agreement fit for the 21st century,” No 10 Downing Street said.
The UK’s trading relationship with the six GCC nations is worth about £45bn a year. The region is the fourth-largest trading partner for the UK, after the US, the EU and China.
Trade focuses heavily on fossil fuels and weapons. While the UK buys oil and gas from the Gulf nations, it sells them arms, aircraft, engines and vehicles.
Britain also exports financial, educational and consultancy services to the Gulf.