GCC and UK free trade deal ‘to open new opportunities’ – ZAWYA

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Bahrain remains an ‘important partner’, as it joins other GCC countries to hopefully sign a historic Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the UK, stated a top official.

The UK-GCC FTA’s chief negotiator Tom Wintle said yesterday that progress continues to be made on the historic trade pact which, once finalised, is expected to increase two-way trade (UK and the GCC bloc) by at least 16 per cent.

The official, currently visiting Bahrain, held talks yesterday to discuss the possible trade agreement’s potential as it looks to unlock new opportunities for both sides.

“Our aim is to reach a modern, comprehensive and ambitious trade agreement,” said Mr Wintle, during a roundtable held at the British Embassy yesterday.

“We want the best value for the GCC and the UK and the more ambitious we can be, the more we can benefit each other’s economies.


“The current trade (bilateral) is something like 54.5 billion pounds (up to Q3 2022) and we think a trade agreement can raise that by 16pc and add about 1.2bn pounds to the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of the six GCC states.”

Trade negotiations started last year and since then Mr Wintle has held talks with GCC officials – with the third round of talks held last month.

He said the team of negotiators will once again meet in London this summer as they discuss the draft treaty text covering various topics.

Mr Wintle did not reveal a timeframe for the deal to be signed, sealed and delivered but added that a team of more than 100 UK negotiators were working on what is set to be a substantial economic agreement.

“For the UK, we don’t put a deadline because it’s more important for us to get the right deal,” he explained. “We are, however, absolutely committed to going at pace.”

He added they were looking to discuss market access, rules of origin and other technical barriers to make it easier for UK and GCC companies to trade.

“On the services side of things, we are working on modern areas such as digital, telecoms, financial services and transport,” he said.

“We’re also looking at lots of new areas to work together with the GCC, such as the environment and women’s economic empowerment.”

Mr Wintle said if there were Bahraini traders exporting goods to the UK the trade pact would result in exemption of some tariffs and excise duty.

“Bahrain is a really important partner to the UK,” he added. “Once we have finished this agreement, there will be a big job to make sure that everyone understands the benefits.”

He believes that when the ink dries on the new UK-GCC deal it would mean significant benefits for British farmers and producers, as the Gulf is highly dependent on imported food.

Tariffs could be slashed on cereals, chocolate, baking products, sweet biscuits and smoked salmon, for example.

Equivalent to the UK’s seventh largest export market, the GCC bloc’s demand for international products and services is expected to grow rapidly to 800bn pounds by 2035, a 35pc increase – opening huge new opportunities for UK businesses.

The UK has signed three new trade agreements since leaving the EU. The agreement with Australia was signed in December 2021 and that with New Zealand in February 2022. These are not yet in force. The digital trade agreement with Singapore was signed in February 2022 and entered into force on 14 June 2022.

In addition, FTA negotiations are now underway with India, Canada, Mexico and Israel.

The UK earlier this week was accepted into an Indo-Pacific trade bloc in what the government says is its biggest trade deal since Brexit.

The Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) is a FTA between 11 countries across the Indo-Pacific, including Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam – and now the UK.

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