The UK's exit from the EU could herald a new era in GCC-UK relations
- Discussions for closer trade ties with the GCC have been ongoing since right after the UK-wide referendum in June 2016
- Of the more than $30bn trade relationship between the UK and GCC, 85% of it is made up through trade with the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar
The United Kingdom's ties with the Gulf states have been forged over decades and now form an key component of the country's economic and geostrategic considerations. As the country ploughs on with the complex process of removing itself from the European Union, the United Kingdom is increasingly seeking to deepen historic ties with its allies in the Gulf. On the other side, many of the GCC states, namely the UAE and Saudi Arabia, are also leveraging the UK's reconfiguration as an opening to reset trade relations.
Do you expect the UK to reach out to the Gulf next year to forge better/preferential trading terms?
The discussions for closer trade ties with the GCC have been ongoing since right after the UK-wide referendum in June 2016.
Throughout the Brexit saga, the GCC has remained a strategic priority for both sides.
After taking office in July 2016 and engaging with her European counterparts, Theresa May visited China, US, India, and the GCC Summit in Bahrain. May was only the 2nd Western leader to attend the Summit In 2016 and the 1st British Prime Minister to attend. Her visit was preceded by an October 2016 visit by then Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Boris Johnson, who discussed a GCC trade deal with the UAE’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
This initial jockeying for positioning and the many subsequent high level trade delegations to the region are indicative of the high level of importance getting a trade deal done with the GCC is on the British Government’s agenda.
Which Gulf countries will be of particular importance to the UK as it navigates its way into a post-Brexit world?
Of the more than $30bn trade relationship between the UK and GCC, 85% of it is made up through trade with the UAE, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar. With the UAE and Saudi Arabia making up the bulk of the trade relationship, they have been the primary focus of trade discussions.
The UAE is actually amongst the UK’s top 20 trading partners, which makes the relationship especially critical.
Do you see a chance for a GCC-wide trade deal?
With the current tensions within the GCC, bilateral discussions are likely to progress faster. However, there is support for multilateral GCC-wide discussions as well. In terms of expediency, you’ll likely see bilaterals pursued with the UAE and KSA as a priority with a view to expanding talks to include the other GCC countries shortly after.
Given the added pressure of COVID-decimated economy, will we see even more pronounced steps from the British government to work with the Gulf and in what sectors?
The importance of the UAE as an export trade partner makes it even more of a priority for deepening trade and investment ties at UK stages its Post-Covid economic recovery.
Would a no-deal Brexit potentially offer more opportunities for the Gulf-UK relationship?
With a no-deal Brexit, the UK will be able to have a much more independent, and proactive approach to strengthening the Gulf-UK relationship.
In particular, it would not have its hands tied by the stalled European Union discussions with the GCC on a free trade agreement have languished since 1990 with little progress.