LONDON: Senior Arab officials and organizations met with their UK counterparts at a summit in London on Wednesday to discuss investment and bilateral opportunities, as the country prepares to leave the EU.
“Britain is on the verge of a crucial turning point in its relationships with the rest of the world,” said Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul Gheit. “The Arab world has a combined gross domestic product (GDP) exceeding $2.5 trillion annually. It has great economic power, wants sustainable investments in Britain, and sustainable British investments in its own countries.”
The head of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Secretary-General Abdullatif Al-Zayani, said harnessing the talents of young people — “a genuine asset to the region” — would be essential for any future relationship between the UK and GCC countries.
“If our societies can harness the energy and resourcefulness of our young people, then they can lead us into a vibrant new world with possibilities we could not have dreamed of a few years ago, but which to them are second nature,” he claimed.
The conference, hosted by the Arab British Chamber of Commerce (ABCC), tackled areas regarding infrastructure, investment, sustainable development and renewable energy opportunities in the Middle East and North Africa.
The chairman of the Council of Saudi Chambers, Sami Al-Abidi, said the Kingdom’s delegation represented Saudi Arabia’s experience in investment, infrastructure and reliance on sustainable development, as well as current projects being undertaken by the Saudi government and in the private sector.
“Saudi Arabia has had a historic relationship with Britain with many old mutual investments, and now we are at a turning point as investment is increasing with very high returns due to the Vision 2030,” Al-Abidi told Arab News.
Meanwhile, the President of the Union of Arab Chambers said commercial activities would expand between the two countries if the UK leaves the EU.
Mohamed Abdo Saeed said: “If the UK follows through with Brexit, this relationship is only going to be stronger and will see new British investments in the Kingdom, as well as Saudi capital in Britain.”
UK trade commissioner for the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan, Simon Penney, said Britain’s trading relationships with the region exceeded £50 billion ($62.5 billion), and that the GCC was the UK’s fourth largest trading partner outside of the EU.
“We are very keen to partner with Saudi companies and Brexit offers many opportunities, particularly around Vision 2030, but also around future trading relationships,” he told Arab News, adding that he would be visiting Riyadh soon to follow up on their commitments and obligations toward the vision.
“We are a trading island nation that has done so for hundreds of years, and we have always traded with the Arab world, and want to ensure that those relationships are developed properly.”
The chair of the Arab International Women’s Forum, Baroness Symons, said the UK was focusing on technology, the environment, youth and their employment and women’s issues in the region.
“The Kingdom has opened not only windows, but doors as well, for women to be more engaged in the economy, get the best education and be given more opportunities,” she said.
ABCC Secretary-General Haifa Al-Kaylani stressed the long-standing relations between the two Kingdoms were “dramatically increasing” every year.
Several Saudi businesses were present at the summit, among them Saudi Arabian Airlines (Saudia), to shed light on the Kingdom’s investment opportunities and support new businesses.
“Saudi Arabia is now on everybody’s mind when they talk about investment and I tell people this is the time to invest because, by 2025 and 2030, there will be a great return on investment,” Frank Valle, Saudia’s manager of sales and marketing in the UK and Ireland, told Arab News.