UK-GCC trade deal would be beneficial

If Brexit is to work - and I believe it will - withdrawing from the internal market both physically and in terms of mindset is absolutely crucial

By Robert John Tasker (Wide Angle)

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Published: Sat 15 Jul 2017, 9:45 PM

Last updated: Sat 15 Jul 2017, 11:47 PM

Perhaps the most exciting part of a post-Brexit Britain is the ability for our country to once again form its own trade deals and explore the emerging parts of the world that our membership of the European Union (EU) has prohibited.
As our campaign argued during the run-up to the referendum on June 23, 2016, the United Kingdom's future economic exploration, academic opportunity and travel and cultural discoveries, will lie with other parts of the world as well as Europe. This will also be the case when it comes to our diplomatic and military allies in the Gulf region, such as the United Arab Emirates.
Since the foundation of the UAE in December 1971, the United Kingdom has been a trusted and valued friend; resulting in a thriving bilateral relationship covering economic, strategic and cultural interests that benefit both countries.
A recent trade delegation to the UAE led by former Deputy Mayor of London, Sir Edward Lister, has thrown its weight behind an ambitious new goal of £25 billion annual trade by 2020, after the previous target of £12 billion was realised two years early under the previous Cameron administration.
Areas of mutual foreign direct investment could include Dubai's Expo 2020 as well as innovative technologies and services across sectors such as healthcare, Islamic finance, clean energy, exports and SMEs. Similarly, the Prime Minister's visit to the Gulf region last December focused heavily on trade and future economic co-operation signalling the British government's long-term internationalist objectives.
Acknowledged on Sir Edward's trip was the fact that while the UAE is Britain's 14th biggest export market, an even bigger prize could be at stake post-Brexit - the rest of the Gulf and its member countries.
According to the UK's Department for International Trade, trade between the wider Gulf region and the UK was worth $33 billion in 2014 - more than the UK's trade with India or China. Furthermore, trade between the UK and the GCC has soared by 185 per cent between 1999 and 2015, with the UAE in particular emerging as the UK's third largest export partner outside Europe, and the 11th largest trading partner for the UK overall.
With the triggering of Article 50 and the snap general election now firmly out of the way, the road ahead for a post-Brexit free-trade agreement with the UAE and the rest of the GCC would be truly unique and presents itself as an exciting example as to how the UK can once again rediscover its global vocation.
As recently as March of this year, the GCC hinted that once the UK formally leaves the EU, it could secure a deal collectively with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Oman in addition to the UAE ­- hugely significant, given that trade between Britain and the GCC is expected to top £30 billion ($37.5 billion) annually.
Once an agreement is in place, mutual trade will grow extensively; with British products given preference in Gulf markets over other European products; and conversely for Gulf-made products in the UK in areas such as aluminium, petrochemicals and oil derivatives.
This proves an enticing long-term prospect that would shore up the UK's place as a key trading destination for the GCC, and one that also highlights EU price discrimination policy towards non-EU imports - a protectionist mechanism that sits uneasily with advocates of global trade.
If Brexit is to work - and I believe it will - withdrawing from the internal market both physically and in terms of mindset is absolutely crucial. We need to do what we do best, but do it independently and across the globe. Buy and sell, negotiate and trade, invent and innovate.
The future is in our hands. It is up to us to make it work.
Robert John Tasker is a former adviser to the Conservative Party in the European Parliament and currently resides in Dubai, UAE.

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