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UK-GCC trade talks set to enter third phase in Riyadh

Rishi Sunak, the UK's prime minister, held talks with the UAE's president, Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed, at Cop27 in Egypt Stefan Rousseau/Pool via Reuters
Rishi Sunak, the UK's prime minister, held talks with the UAE's president, Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed, at Cop27 in Egypt
  • Next round of negotiations scheduled for early next year in Saudi
  • Talks on 29 policy areas were held in London on December 5 to 9
  • Over 100 GCC officials travelled to UK for in-person discussions

A third round of negotiations for a free trade agreement between the UK and the GCC is set to take place in the Saudi capital Riyadh early next year.

The talks will follow a second round of negotiations that took place in London between December 5 and 9, the UK government has revealed in a statement.

More than 100 GCC officials travelled to London for in-person negotiations, with others attending virtually. Technical discussions were held across 29 policy areas in 36 sessions. 

A similar number of British negotiators took part in the second round of talks, during which the UK said it set out its policy positions. Draft chapter text across most policy areas had been exchanged with the GCC before the discussions, according to the British government. 

“A key objective at this stage was to continue to build a firm understanding of the GCC’s policy positions and priorities. Both negotiation teams took actions to further consider each other’s positions and identify opportunities to move closer together ahead of round three,” the statement said.

Both sides “remain committed to securing an ambitious, comprehensive and modern agreement fit for the 21st century”, it said. 

A UK government analysis has found that, in the long term, a deal with the GCC could add at least £1.6 billion ($1.9 billion) a year to the UK economy.

“We will not compromise on our high environmental, public health, animal welfare and food standards, and we will maintain our right to regulate in the public interest. We are also clear that during these negotiations, the National Health Service and the services it provides is not on the table,” the statement added.

The UK-GCC trade talks were launched in June. The bloc, made up of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE, is the UK’s seventh largest export market.

Around 10,700 small and medium-sized businesses from every UK nation and region exported goods to the GCC in 2020, with SMEs accounting for more than 85 percent of UK goods exported to Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

Bradley Jones, executive director of the UAE-UK Business Council, has said a free trade deal would be “hugely beneficial for both markets”.

“While the removal of tariffs is important, it is the dismantling of non-tariff barriers that present the strongest opportunity,” he told AGBI in August.

In October, Vincent Keaveny, then lord mayor of the City of London, said he hoped the negotiations could be completed in the first half of 2023.

Keaveny said the financial and professional services sector strongly supported the UK-GCC trade talks, adding: “I am optimistic, probably more optimistic than the last time when I visited the UAE a year ago, about being able to get a GCC agreement finalised.

“I am hoping that we will move ahead, and with the political will on both sides, we might get an agreement in the first half of 2023.”

Total trade between the UK and the six GCC countries increased in the year to the end of the first quarter of 2022. The UK posted a trade surplus with all the nations apart from Qatar.

According to an AGBI analysis of statistics released by the UK’s Department for International Trade, trade between the UK and the GCC countries totalled nearly £35.5 billion.