UK starts trade deal process with Saudi Arabia, other Gulf nations

This photo captures shipping containers inside the BTP port terminal the largest export terminal for Brazilian products in 2020, at Port of Santos in Santos, Brazil, on April 20, 2021. (JONNE RORIZ / BLOOMBERG)

The UK kicked off the process to sign a trade deal with Saudi Arabia and a group of other Gulf states, its latest post-Brexit target as it seeks deeper economic ties beyond the European Union.

Negotiations for a pact between Britain and the Gulf Cooperation Council aim to start in 2022 following a 14-week consultation with the public and businesses, the UK’s Department for International Trade said

Negotiations for a pact between Britain and the Gulf Cooperation Council, whose members also include Qatar, Bahrain and Oman, aim to start in 2022 following a 14-week consultation with the public and businesses, the UK’s Department for International Trade said in a statement. British trade with the GCC was worth about 45 billion pounds ($61 billion) in 2019, 7 percent of the size of Britain’s commerce with the EU in the same year. 

The move comes at a time when Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund is taking over Newcastle United FC from billionaire Mike Ashley after it received approval from the UK’s Premier League following a year and a half wait.

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Britain is also closing in on post-Brexit free-trade pacts with Australia and New Zealand, and as it seeks accession to the CPTPP trans-Pacific trading bloc. But negotiations with the US on a trade agreement – one of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s top priorities – have hit a standstill as President Joe Biden’s administration focuses on domestic priorities.

Johnson’s government is under pressure to prove the value of an independent trade policy after splitting from the EU, which created costly trade barriers with the UK’s largest market and caused some exports to slump. Beginning the GCC process is also the first major move by new International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan, who took over from Liz Truss last month.

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A deal with the GCC “is a huge opportunity to liberalize trade with a growing market for British business and deepen ties with a region that is vital to our strategic interests,” Trevelyan said in the statement. The UK wants to break down trade barriers in areas including food, digital and renewable energy.