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AI to be at the heart of UK-GCC free trade talks

Trade commissioner Oliver Christian believes that education is one sector that could benefit from AI investment between the UK and the GCC Pexels/Gustavo Fring
Trade commissioner Oliver Christian believes that education is one sector that could benefit from AI investment between the UK and the GCC
  • Trade worth £61.5bn
  • AI a focus for commissioner
  • Health and education may benefit

AI will be at the heart of future bilateral trade between the GCC and the UK, according to Oliver Christian, His Majesty’s trade commissioner for the Middle East and Pakistan.

“That [AI investment] will definitely be the story of my tenure here over the coming years in the UAE and across the Middle East,” said Christian, who was appointed in September.

Christian was previously head of the prime minister’s business unit in Downing Street, serving four prime ministers from 2019 to 2023.

The GCC economies could benefit to the tune of $23.5 billion from increasing investments in generative AI, according to a report from consultants Strategy&.

Christian said that education and health in particular could gain from the use of AI.

“What those opportunities require are huge amounts of energy, political agreement between countries. It will need investment in terms of cash into data centres, R&D and so forth,” he said.

Total trade in goods and services between the UK and GCC was £61.5 billion (S77.9 billion) in the four quarters to the end of Q2 2023, an increase of 37.9 percent – or £16.9 billion in current prices – from the same period in 2022. 

The UK had a strong presence at this year’s Cop28 climate summit in Dubai. Among the deals announced during the event was the acquisition of a 49 percent stake in Britain’s twin Dogger Bank South offshore wind farm projects, in the North Sea, by Abu Dhabi state-controlled energy company Masdar.

The £11 billion project will have a maximum capacity of 3GW, with the potential to supply 3 million homes with electricity. 

Free trade negotiations

Negotiations to establish a free trade deal between the UK and the GCC will go into a sixth round next month.

The UK government forecasts that a trade deal with the GCC could be worth £1.6 billion ($1.99 billion) more a year to its economy, an increase of 16 percent.

Free trade negotiations were launched in July last year and were scheduled to be completed by the end of 2023. 

Kemi Badenoch, the UK secretary of state for business, energy and industrial strategy, is due to visit the region in the first quarter of next year.

Following the last round of discussions in Riyadh last month, the UK’s Department for Business & Trade said “good progress was made” in 21 policy areas.

But GCC secretary-general Jassem Mohamed Albudaiwi was subsequently quoted emphasising the “urgency” needed in the pace of negotiations.

Christian refused to put a deadline on a successful outcome, saying: “We’re not putting a time on it because it’s important to get the right deal and the best deal.”

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