Skip to content Skip to Search
Skip navigation
  • Exclusive

UK-GCC talks must extend beyond tariffs, say top diplomats

Edward Lister, former aide to Boris Johnson, wants discussions to be far-reaching Reuters/John Sibley
Edward Lister, former aide to Boris Johnson, wants discussions to be far-reaching
  • Lord Udny-Lister calls for new routes to market
  • UAE Ambassador to the UK wants quick solutions
  • Free trade deal will lead to increased investment from the Gulf

The newly-commenced free trade agreement talks between the UK and the GCC have been welcomed by senior diplomats.

Lord Udny-Lister, co-chair of the UAE-UK Business Council and a former strategic advisor to British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, hailed the FTA discussions as “great news”, but called for a wide and nuanced set of agreements that extend beyond simple tariffs.

“Let’s be blunt, FTAs are normally about tariffs and what really needs to be discussed are the bilateral agreements – such as creating new routes to market and the standardisation of professional services,” Lister told AGBI at a London conference organised by Dubai FDI.

Lister cautioned that it’s still “very early days” in the FTA talks cycle.

“Once the tariffs are discussed, it will then evolve into bilateral issues. There are a wide range of topics that will start to come through in the next few months regarding each country specifically. 

“As soon as we can start moving into those discussions that would be helpful,” he said, adding that the UAE-UK Business Council would be “lobbying hard” for mutually beneficial corporate interests.

“We want to encourage UK businesses to invest in Emirates and vice-versa.

“It’s important to us to create deals that support businesses in both countries. For any alliance to work, it has to be win-win. It’s a very exciting time,” Lister said.

Officials from the GCC and UK agreed to work rapidly towards a comprehensive FTA in December last year as both parties seek to cement their post-Brexit trading relationship.

The deal has been publicly reported to close by Q4 2022, but Lister has predicted a longer timeline. “It’s unlikely to be done by then,” he disclosed to AGBI in May.

Full steam ahead

UAE Ambassador to the UK Mansoor Abulhoul said the UK-GCC FTA talks have been “long awaited.”

“It’s really great that Britain is moving at this speed and we hope that this pace will be maintained,” Abulhoul said. 

The diplomat cautioned that the FTA talks must be comprehensive and go beyond mere tariff deals.

“We welcome this news with great interest,” he said. “However, the UAE also represents a huge part of UK-GCC bilateral trade and we want to ensure the cadence is kept up on these talks too.

“The UAE has a lot to offer – particularly on environmental investment areas.

“We play a key feature in negotiations. It’s great we have reached this stage and our team will all keep a laser focus in terms of moving fast with these talks.”

Abulhoul stressed that tariff talks represent “the bare minimum” necessary for fruitful economic cooperation between the GCC bloc and Britain.

“I think it will be a lot more than tariffs and so it should be. It’s going to go a lot deeper and particularly for the UAE,” he said. 

“We understand from the UK government that they have built in a framework that allows countries to go further and deeper in the agreements, and we think the UAE can.

“I wouldn’t like to get ahead of the game but you know that in the UAE we like things to happen fast.”

Baroness SymonsReuters/Mohamed Azakir
Baroness Symons

Also speaking at the London event, Baroness Elizabeth Symons, chairman of the Arab British Chamber of Commerce and senior Labour member in the House of Lords, said successful FTAs “should be about standards and incentives and so much more.”

“However, the best thing is that these talks have begun,” Symons added.

As the UK’s seventh largest export market, GCC demand for international products and services is expected to grow to £800 billion ($976 billion) by 2035, a 35 percent increase – heralding colossal opportunities for UK businesses.

A free trade deal would also open the door to increased investment from the Gulf, supporting and creating jobs across the country, according to the British government.

The FTA talks are expected to culminate in a trade deal worth £1.6 billion more a year to the UK economy, an increase of 16 percent, government analysis shows.

UK firms had invested £13.4 billion in Gulf economies as of 2020, while GCC firms had £15.7 billion invested in the UK in the same period.

Latest articles

Adnoc sought advice from investment banks on buying a significant stake in BP, a media report said

UAE’s Adnoc explored acquiring BP

Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (Adnoc) explored the possibility of acquiring British oil major BP but abandoned the plan as it did not fit into its strategic growth objectives, a media report said.  The talks did not advance beyond the initial stages, Reuters reported, citing informed sources.  The UAE state oil company also sought advice […]

Nature, Undersea cables account for as much as 90 percent of Europe-Asia telecommunications, Water

Iraq and Kuwait team up for European telecom corridor

Iraq’s Informatics and Telecommunication Public Company, a division of the Ministry of Communications, has signed an agreement with Kuwait’s Zajil Telecom to create a telecommunications corridor from the Gulf region to Europe, transiting through Iraq and Turkey. The new route will pass through Iraqi sea and land ports. Iraq’s minister of communications Hayam Al-Yasiri said […]

An artist's impression of part of the Diriyah Square development

Diriyah Square planned for historic Riyadh district

A public space featuring 400 retail outlets and 100 restaurants and cafes is planned for the historic Riyadh district of Diriyah. Diriyah Square will be announced next week at the World Retail Congress in Paris and aims to attract a combination of international retail brands and local artisans.  Diriyah Gate Development Authority group CEO Jerry […]

Turkish crude steel output rose 25% year on year to 3.2 million tonnes in January

Turkish steel in the black but EU rules rankle

Turkey’s steel industry has rebounded strongly from a weak 2023, despite facing new emissions standards and competition for important markets.  Crude steel output rose 25 percent year on year to 3.2 million tonnes in January, with domestic consumption of finished steel reaching 3.5 million tonnes, a 20 percent increase.  Exports were also up, increasing 23 […]