Great Britain begins negotiations for an improved trade agreement with the Gulf States

Great Britain begins negotiations for an improved trade agreement with the Gulf States

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is greeted by Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia during a visit to Riyadh in 2022 (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is greeted by Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia during a visit to Riyadh in 2022 (Stefan Rousseau/PA) (PA Wire)

Talks over a trade deal between the UK and six Gulf countries that could boost Britain’s economy by up to £1.6 billion a year will begin with a meeting in Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.

Trade Minister Anne-Marie Trevelyan is due to meet Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) officials in Riyadh to start negotiations for an agreement with the bloc.

Trade between the UK and the GCC – which includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – is already worth £33.1 billion, making it the UK’s seventh largest trading partner, and the bloc’s demand for international goods and services is expected to grow by 35% over the next 13 years.

Ms Trevelyan said: “This trade deal has the potential to support jobs from Dover to Doha, grow our domestic economy, build vital green industries and provide innovative services for growth.”

But Paul Nowak, deputy secretary-general of the Trades Union Congress, warned against the move because of the Gulf states’ “appalling” human rights record.

The UK is expected to seek tariff cuts on UK exports to the Gulf, particularly in the food and drink sector. UK food and drink exports to the GCC countries were £625 million in 2021.

The UK is trying to lower tariffs on exports of wind turbine parts to the Gulf (Owen Humphreys/PA) (PA Archive)

The UK is trying to lower tariffs on exports of wind turbine parts to the Gulf (Owen Humphreys/PA) (PA Archive)

The government will also seek to improve access for high-tech industries, including green technologies, to help the GCC transition from fossil fuel dependency.

This could include cutting the 15 per cent tariff on UK wind turbine parts to help the UAE meet its target of 50 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2050.

Stephen Phipson, chief executive of manufacturer organization Make UK, said: “We welcome the launch of free trade negotiations with the Gulf Cooperation Council which will strengthen trade opportunities and ensure that UK manufacturing benefits from future positive flows of goods and services to the Gulf region.

“It is also extremely helpful that the UK and GCC are working on the committee to explore the opportunities for ‘green innovation’, which are significant for the innovative UK renewable energy companies that are already leaders in this area of ​​global interest will offer opportunities.”

But unlike recent trade deals with New Zealand and Australia, the UK is expected not to seek agreements to promote gender equality as part of its negotiations with the GCC, but to address human rights issues through other channels.

Negotiations will also aim to improve investment opportunities between the UK and the Gulf region, with GCC investment supporting more than 25,000 jobs in the UK in 2019 and the new deal expected to boost local economies in the North and Midlands.

For the services sector, UK negotiators will look to improve regulatory transparency and consistency, which has previously been a sticking point, particularly for small and medium-sized businesses.

Sanjay Aggarwal, Co-Founder of Spice Kitchen, a small Liverpool-based exporter, said: “Being associated with the GCC is so important to our business and allows us to grow rapidly in exciting ways that we never thought possible had.

“We are in the process of identifying retailers in the Gulf, including the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Qatar.”

But Mr Nowak said the government should not “entertain” a deal.

“The Gulf States’ appalling human and labor rights record is no secret. And yet the government rushes into trade talks with no questions asked,” he said.

“The ministers should not enter into an agreement with the Gulf States.

“Union bans, forced labour, the severe exploitation of migrant workers and other human rights abuses are widespread – as are attacks on women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights and the repression of marginalized communities.

“In attempts to secure trade deals, ministers have consistently turned a blind eye to violations of fundamental rights.

“Enough is enough. The UK Government should use its influence on the global stage to ensure respect for basic labor and human rights.

“And we need ministers to start consulting meaningfully with unions during trade talks – this is the only way trade deals for workers in the UK and around the world will work.”

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