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Britain and GCC agree to ’work rapidly’ towards free trade deal

The National | 20 December 2021

Britain and GCC agree to ’work rapidly’ towards free trade deal

by Thomas Harding

Britain and the Gulf states have agreed to an “ambitious strategic partnership” after issuing a detailed joint communique late on Monday.

Following a day-long meeting between the British foreign secretary and foreign ministers from the Gulf Co-operation Council, a 1,500-word document was released detailing agreements on trade and numerous security issues including Iran and Afghanistan.

The discussions took place at the 17th-century mansion in Chevening, Kent, where the ministers announced that the UK-GCC relationship would “be strengthened across all fields”.

They highlighted the “re-energised UK-GCC partnership” that would help keep their citizens safe and generate significant business opportunities.

The agreement between the sides will prove a significant fillip for Liz Truss, the British foreign secretary, a day after it was announced she would lead Britain’s Brexit negotiations after the resignation of Lord Frost.

But it will also more importantly lead to the start of serious economic talks after all parties agreed to “work rapidly” towards a comprehensive free trade deal (FTA).

“They agreed that an FTA would mark a significant turning point in the UK-GCC relationship and looked forward to commencing negotiations in 2022,” the communique said.

A significant emphasis was also placed on developing security alliances as well as investment in clean technology, digital infrastructure and cybersecurity.

“The foreign ministers highlighted their belief that this ambitious strategic partnership between the UK and GCC member states is essential in promoting peace, security, stability and economic growth in the Middle East region and beyond,” the joint communique read.

Greater trade links between Britain and the Gulf would lead to organisations coming together, which would “promote understanding between our peoples”.

Despite the Omicron variant outbreak, the foreign ministers of Oman, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait were present with the UAE represented by Assistant Minister for Political Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation Lana Nusseibeh.

Earlier in the day, Britain and the Gulf States signalled they were “setting the stage of a new era” for economic ties.

Following talks with the GCC ministers, Ms Truss said an agreement was a “win-win for all parties".

“I want us to have much deeper links in key areas like trade, investment, development and cybersecurity with a part of the world that is important to Britain’s long-term interests,” she said.

It is understood that the British government wants to “modernise the relationship” with the Gulf, moving it on from the long tradition of security into the business world, with annual trade worth £30 billion.

”The UK is an important economic and strategic partner for the UAE, and for our GCC neighbours. The UAE alone accounts for 30 per cent of UK exports to the Arab world”, said Lana Nusseibeh, UAE Assistant Minister for Political Affairs. “We had a very productive set of discussions here in Chevening about how to build on these strengths and deliver added benefits to people and businesses in Britain, the Gulf, and beyond based on our mutual prosperity and security”, she added. “On the international stage, we are looking forward to working with the UK on our shared priorities when we join the UN Security Council in January.”

A series of high-level visits to the region over the next year will be used to further cement Britain’s GCC relationships and help to move the trade deal along.

The UAE’s ambassador to the UK, Mansoor Abulhoul, described the meeting as “another sign of the UK-GCC relationship going from strength to strength". He added that "the UAE’s Sovereign Investment Partnership this year was a major landmark in our own relationship with the UK, and next year will bring the Strategic Dialogue between [UAE Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Co-operation] Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed and Foreign Secretary Liz Truss. A Free Trade Agreement would be yet another big step forward. We are investing together in developing countries".

Aside from trade, the communique addressed a number of pressing security issues around the region, including Iran and Yemen.

 source: The National