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UK seeks Gulf trade boost as talks start to secure deal

The UK aims to see a significant increase in trade with the six Gulf Cooperation Council states as it begins talks to negotiate a deal that sidesteps the controversial issue of human rights.

International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan said the future agreement would aim to provide a £1.6 billion annual boost to the UK economy, from increased exports of manufactured goods and agricultural products to financial and digital services.

“We are looking for a really comprehensive, ambitious and modern forward-thinking FTA (Free Trade Agreement),” she said. “I don’t want to limit it to goods. † † we will create the footprint for all our sectors.”

During the negotiations, the GCC is expected to pursue its own preferential access to the UK market by pushing for tariff reductions and other barriers.

Talks begin Wednesday in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, where the GCC is headquartered. The other members of the Arab bloc are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

The GCC makes up the UK’s seventh largest export market, accounting for £33.1 billion in annual bilateral trade; According to the UK, demand for goods and services in the region is expected to grow by 35 percent to £800 billion by 2035.

Thani Al Zeyoudi, the UAE’s foreign trade minister, said the talks presented a “great opportunity” to grow trade between the UK and the GCC and conclude an agreement that would “strengthen ties with a trusted trading partner.” , further diversify supply chains and accelerate knowledge”. Handover”.

The UK believes a deal could bring “significant benefits” to UK farmers and manufacturers. GCC tariffs on imports of goods are generally set at 5 percent and some much higher, such as grains up to 25 percent and chocolate up to 15 percent.

The negotiations will avoid sensitive discussions over human rights in the Gulf, where states have been criticized for their repressive policies, including the murder of critical Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the UAE’s detention of British academic Matthew Hedges for alleged espionage.

British citizens trapped in archaic legal systems often complain about a lack of government support in securing justice.

Raising any British “concerns” about human rights would remain the responsibility of the Foreign Office, Trevelyan said. But improved trade ties would allow the UK to deal more effectively with rights issues, she added.

Gulf states are also controlled for lax standards and poor conditions for the large number of migrant workers in the region, many of whom arrive in debt, leading to conditions akin to forced labour.

Anne-Marie Trevelyan, UK International Trade Secretary: ‘We are looking for a truly comprehensive, ambitious and modern forward-looking Free Trade Agreement (Free Trade Agreement)’ © Peter Nicholls/Reuters

As part of a trade deal, Trevelyan said the UK would ask Gulf states to confirm their commitments to standards set by the International Labor Organization, as well as environmental standards set out in the Paris Agreement on climate change.

She said Gulf states would benefit from better access to UK businesses, including clean energy technology, as the bloc’s members work to reduce large carbon footprints.

GCC members such as the UAE and Qatar have recently signed major investment partnerships with the UK. Boris Johnson, the British Prime Minister, continues to sue the Gulf over investments in the post-Brexit economy and recently met with de facto Saudi Arabia’s leader Prince Mohammed bin Salman and other regional leaders.

Officials said the timetable for any GCC trade pact would depend on the bloc’s willingness to negotiate a substantive deal, suggesting the UK can act quickly in closing previous agreements with Australia and New Zealand.

Relations between the GCC countries have been fraught in recent years, including a Saudi Arabia-led embargo on Qatar that ended last year. Since then, Riyadh has also raised tariffs on a range of goods to protect the economy.

Some GCC members, including the UAE, have personally raised the prospect of reaching bilateral agreements with the UK given the difficulty of finding agreement within the bloc.

Trevelyan said she was determined to make a GCC deal first. It may not be that ambitious, but could serve as a “starting point” prior to discussions with those who want to “go further”.

“I’m very happy to look into that in due course,” she said.

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