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UK Middle East trade commissioner steps down

Simon Penney has been the UK's trade commissioner for the Middle East since 2018
Simon Penney was appointed as the UK's trade commissioner for the Middle East since 2018
  • Simon Penney said it was a privilege to work in ‘such a dynamic region’
  • The UK is in talks for a UK-GCC free trade agreement
  • Penney’s replacement could earn up to £125k per year

Simon Penney has resigned as the UK’s trade commissioner to the Middle East, as talks over attempts to agree a UK-GCC free trade agreement continue.

Penney announced his decision on social media, bringing to an end his five years in the role, saying it was time to “pass the reins on”.

“It has been without doubt one of the biggest privileges I have had, representing the UK in such a dynamic region,” he said in a post on LinkedIn, adding he plans to remain in the region.

Negotiations with the GCC – the alliance of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman – were launched in June 2022. A fourth round is due to take place in London later this year.

Penney added: “Exports are at an all-time high, we have started free trade negotiations with the Gulf, and secured investments programmes into the UK worth in excess of £25 billion.”

The UK government forecasts that a trade deal could be worth £1.6 billion more a year to its economy.

The GCC is equivalent to the UK’s seventh-largest export market and its demand for international products and services is expected to grow by 35 percent by 2035 to £800 billion.

A former Middle East CEO of Royal Bank of Scotland and head of wholesale and international banking at First Gulf Bank in the UAE, Penney was also His Majesty’s Counsel General for Dubai and the Northern Emirates since May 2018.

Recruitment firm Hays has been tasked with finding a successor, with applications for the role open until July 3.

The role of trade commissioner, which is based within the UK’s Department for International Trade in Dubai, is available to UK nationals only and comes with a salary ranging from £95,000 to £125,000 per year.

The successful candidate will be accountable to the secretary of state for business and trade and work with government and business “to shape the UK’s trade relationships with the region”, coordinating closely with the UK ambassador to the UAE and departments in London.

The advertisement on the UK government website adds: “It’s a big job, and one that will suit someone who wants to make a difference in a fast-changing context.”