A UK-GCC trade deal to usher in a new era of partnership

A UK-GCC trade deal to usher in a new era of partnership

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As the UK’s business and trade secretary, my top priority for 2024 is a UK-GCC free trade deal. An agreement is in all our interests. It will mark a new and exciting era of economic partnership between our countries. It will be a new opportunity for both nations to prosper. 

This new era, which we are building together, is only possible because of the historic foundations of the UK-Gulf relationship. Foundations built over centuries have stood the test of time and are most visible in the strong bonds our royal families have for each other.

At every visit, summit, and meeting I have with Gulf leaders and investors I feel that same affection and respect. I hear about the faith the Gulf has in a strong, confident, and prosperous UK outside the EU. 

I see that faith translating into investment in the UK. Whether it is Camden Market or Canary Wharf, Newcastle United, or Manchester City, Gulf investors believe in the UK’s most iconic institutions.

Thousands of Gulf Arabs have made the UK their home away from home. Almost 800,000 Gulf visitors spent £2 billion during their stays in the UK in 2022. What’s more is the trust Gulf Arabs have in the quality of UK services: whether it is British healthcare for their loved ones or British schools and universities for their children.

The UK believes in the Gulf. We are the No. 1 European investor in the region, the UK voted for Riyadh to bring the world together at Expo 2030 and the UK-Saudi plan for defense cooperation is a commitment to regional security. Thousands of Britons live and work in the dynamic Gulf economies and many go on holiday in the region — something which I expect to grow over time given Saudi Arabia’s tourism revenue has almost tripled since 2018.

These ties are the beating heart of our thriving relationship.

I am here in Riyadh this week to celebrate this relationship at the “GREAT FUTURES” event. It is exciting to be back in Saudi Arabia, which former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, one of my political heroes, described as “a nation whose political importance can hardly be overestimated.”

I have brought with me over 300 UK businesses from all sectors and sizes to showcase the world-class goods and services the UK has to offer. The visit will enable UK businesses to learn about the new, exciting commercial opportunities on offer in Saudi Arabia, especially as the Kingdom works to deliver its ambitious Vision 2030. The networking, showcases, and engagement will allow existing friends to cement their bonds and for many businesses to build brand-new relationships that extend long into the future. 

From education providers to professional services, to our creative industries, British businesses have a key role to play in supporting Vision 2030 and the economic diversification of the entire region. 

To build a prosperous future together our businesses need certainty as well as new opportunities. Those are the keys to unlocking new jobs and new investment in the Gulf and the UK. Agreeing on an ambitious, modern free trade agreement will lock in terms that remove barriers and simplify procedures for our businesses to buy and sell into each other’s markets. Such an agreement, which I am working with my GCC counterparts to deliver, will add billions to the collective value of our economies.

One reason why it is so important to sign a deal that removes barriers to trade is that our economies complement each other. The UK economy is 80 percent services and the GCC has the fourth highest share of imported commercial services in the world, so the UK is ideally placed to support the ambitious economic diversification project Gulf leaders have launched. Especially in innovative fields such as digital, artificial intelligence, and fintech.

As ministers and businesses come together in Riyadh, I hope we create the momentum and goodwill to help us finalize a deal. I can think of no better way for the UK and the Gulf to show the entire world how committed we are to the future prosperity of both our peoples.

  • Kemi Badenoch is the UK secretary of state for business and trade.
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