Brexit sparks fresh free trade talks between the Gulf and UK

LONDON // Arabian Gulf officials have embarked on free-trade talks with the UK following the Brexit vote, Saudi Arabia’s commerce minister has revealed. The GCC and Britain already share strong business ties, with trade between the United Kingdom and UAE alone targeted to more than double to £25 billion (Dh120.93bn) by 2020. Yet attempts at […]

LONDON // Arabian Gulf officials have embarked on free-trade talks with the UK following the Brexit vote, Saudi Arabia’s commerce minister has revealed.

The GCC and Britain already share strong business ties, with trade between the United Kingdom and UAE alone targeted to more than double to £25 billion (Dh120.93bn) by 2020.

Yet attempts at a free-trade agreement between the GCC and the European Union bloc have stumbled despite talks dating back to the 1980s.

Majid bin Abdullah Al Qasabi, Saudi Arabia’s minister of commerce and investment, yesterday said there are now “all the ingredients for success” after the vote to leave the European Union.

Talks over an individual agreement with the UK have already started, the Saudi minister told The National.

“It’s already been initiated – that’s why we are here,” Mr Al Qasabi said on the sidelines of a conference in London. “After Brexit, we need to just engage and to identify what are the opportunities and challenges.

“The United Kingdom has been a great partner, ally and friend to Saudi Arabia, and to the GCC countries. And I think there is an opportunity [for a] win-win situation.”

The Saudi minister met privately with Liam Fox, the UK’s new secretary of state for international trade, and other officials from the UK and GCC.

Mr Al Qasabi spoke earlier at the GCC-British Economic -Forum in London, organised by the Arab-British Chamber of Commerce.

Prince Andrew, the Duke of York – and the second son of Queen Elizabeth II – told delegates that he expects trade ties between the GCC and UK to strengthen following the UK vote to leave the EU.

“The GCC is a very, very important trading partner for the United Kingdom, be that inside or outside the European Union – and probably more so with the UK once we are out of the European Union,” he said.

“Yes, there is going to be a period of difficulty and uncertainty while a huge range of knotty subjects have to be negotiated … But at the end of that I believe there are opportunities not only for the United Kingdom but also the GCC.”

Prince Andrew – who is the founder of an organisation called Pitch@Palace, which supports entrepreneurs – said he plans to travel to the GCC to discuss opening up a similar programme in the region.

Mr Fox, who’s one of the most vocal campaigners to leave the EU, also said that he sees closer business ties between the GCC and UK after the Brexit vote.

“We are deepening, and broadening our already strong relationship,” he said.

“We have set up a new Gulf fund, committing £100 million over five years to support collaboration on practical issues in our mutual interests, such as cyber and national infrastructure security,” the minister added, without giving further details.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean, the chairman of the -Arab-British Chamber of Commerce, said bilateral trade talks with the UK are now a possibility, whereas those with the wider EU may have stalled.

“We will start talking to groups of countries such as the GCC,” she said. “We have some terrific opportunities now as a result of the decision of the British people.”

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