LONDON: The long-standing relationship between the UK and the Arab world will continue regardless of the issues of the day, including the coronavirus pandemic, Brexit and the global economy, a senior UK government official has said.
“Total Gulf trade in both directions, just before COVID-19, was £44 billion ($50.4 billion). It has fallen by nearly 30% during the pandemic but, I’m actually glad to say, the most recent figures show that trade between the UK and Arab countries has actually returned to almost exactly the same figure as ‘before,’ said Simon Penney. , British trade commissioner for the Middle East, told Arab News.
“So you will see that we will have these cyclical events, but I think it demonstrates the underlying strength and depth of the trade relationship, which has enormous potential for growth much, much further, and a free trade agreement will obviously contribute to this additional growth.”
His comments came at the second Arab-British Economic Summit, organized by the UK-based Arab-British Chamber of Commerce in London, and attended by around 750 senior government and private sector officials.
Penney added: “One of the really big differences for me, or accomplishments, is that when I was here in 2019 we said we wanted to do a free trade agreement with the GCC (Council for Cooperation on Gulf).
“Standing here today in 2022, I am delighted to say that we have officially launched the negotiations for a free trade agreement, that we have moved towards Brexit and that we have taken a negotiation step towards the exit from the European Union.
“Brexit and the pandemic have fundamentally created new opportunities between the Arab world and the UK. This opened the door for countries to be replaced as the UK’s new trading partners.
“When it comes to COVID-19, the UK has been one of the main players, providing food and medical supplies to the Arab world, and in particular to the GCC countries.”
Sheikh Khalifa bin Jassim, President of the Qatar Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said that the Gulf countries enjoy privileged relations with the United Kingdom in various fields, including trade and economy, and that the GCC countries are considered the seventh largest market for UK exports, with the total volume of trade between them amounting to more than £33billion last year.
He said: “While we welcome the free trade negotiations between the UK and the Gulf Cooperation Council which started a few months ago following Britain’s exit from the European Union, we hope that an agreement will be reached soon”. , as the signing of a free trade agreement should lead both parties to increase the volume of intra-regional trade to higher levels, in addition to providing more investment opportunities between the two parties.
London Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Richard Burge said London, as a global city, was “particularly interested in a post-pandemic world of learning, bringing together and collating the lessons that the Arab world and London have learned during this period.
He added that London could consider new businesses and opportunities for investment, growth and business development in the Arab world.
Regarding its relationship with Saudi Arabia, Burge said the LCCI is looking for long-term partnerships and warned that “the danger at the moment, especially with exciting projects like Neom, is that everyone is in a rush to trying to do something that’s starting to give way.” fruits this year or next year.
He added that he thought the focus should be on the next decade and the one after.
Sameer Nass, President of the Union of Arab Chambers, said countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt seek to become hubs in specific areas and will strengthen the economies of Arab countries over the of the next 20 years.
“Saudi Arabia is making a leap forward in renewable energy, we are seeing a huge transformation and looking to harness power generation,” he said, adding that the same applied to the Jordan, which is paving the way for solar energy production, and Morocco.
“I think (Saudi Arabia) is going to be an economy to be reckoned with in the world, and I’m very confident in how they are doing and I think it will be very difficult to catch up with them, but I think that the Arab countries must complement each other.
“My ambition and my wish is to create an Arab-Arab trade, to increase trade between Arab countries, as well as investments between them.”
Bandar Reda, Secretary General and CEO of ABCC, said the whole idea of the first and second summits was to bring the two regions together.
He said: “The Arabs and the UK, especially now the UK, have gone through a difficult time with Brexit and so many other reversals, and the global economy is affected.”
Reda added that he believed the UK was looking for new partners to engage with, and that “the 22 Arab countries are the best partners from our perspective for the UK”.