Kemi Badenoch starts Gulf states tour to boost UK trade talks, despite rights concerns

Mon 22 May 2023
Posted by: Phillip Adnett
Trade News

Gulf coast states at night

UK secretary of state for business and trade, Kemi Badenoch, is set to visit Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) this week as part of a five-day tour keep up momentum on a potential trade deal, despite criticism of any such negotiations by human rights groups.

According to the Daily Express, this is part of an effort to secure a “comprehensive trade deal” with Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), a bloc consisting of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

The UK launched negotiations with the GCC last June, as reported previously by the IOE&IT Daily Update.

Next round of Gulf

The Evening Standard reports that Badenoch will meet the council’s new secretary general, Jasem Al-Budaiwi, as well as her ministerial counterparts from the six member nations.

Ahead of the visit, she called the GCC “an enormous opportunity for UK firms” and stressed her desire to strengthen trade links between the UK and the Gulf states.

The third round of negotiations on the GCC took place from 12-16 March this year in Riyadh, with the fourth round scheduled for later in 2023. The March round reportedly saw progress made on the “majority of chapters” in the draft agreement.

Matching ambitions

Badenoch added: “I know my counterparts are as ambitious for this deal as I am, and I’m ready to match their ambition.”

Department of Business and Trade (DBT) figures show that the combined Gulf states would be the UK’s seventh largest export market, with collectively their demand for goods and services is expected to rise to almost £1trn by 2035 – an increase of more than 75%.

DBT hopes that a deal with the GCC would increase trade by at least 16% and add £1.6bn a year to the UK economy, contributing an additional £600m.

Recent analysis from the Guardian found that Qatar was the single largest purchaser of UK arms and other defence products, buying £2.7bn-worth of goods.

Human rights concerns

Rights and labour groups have criticised the prospect of such a deal, calling on the government to “walk away” from the negotiations.

Paul Nowak, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC) told City AM that “there is absolutely no reason to be entering trade talks with countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia, where human rights, women’s and LGBT rights and workers’ rights abuses are so widespread.”

Nick Thomas-Symonds, Labour’s shadow international trade secretary, said: “On the GCC discussions, the UK should advance trade negotiations that work for the UK economy, while advancing human rights, women’s rights, workers’ rights, and environmental protections.”

“A UK-Gulf trade deal which remained silent on these issues would be wilfully ignoring serious human rights violations.”