Interview: Tobias Ellwood
In what ways is the UK working with GCC partners to help reduce tensions in the Middle East?
TOBIAS ELLWOOD: The UK has long-standing, close and productive relationships with all the Gulf states, most of which date back hundreds of years. They are as important to us as ever. The UK and our Gulf partners remain steadfast allies, and we work with them across a range of areas that affect us all, from education to regional security.
With Daesh on its doorstep in Iraq and Syria, one of the GCC’s key aims is to defeat Daesh’s murderous ideology, and the UK is standing with the GCC at the forefront of international efforts to defeat Daesh. We’re doing this through military support to the Global Coalition, by working to squeeze Daesh’s finances and continuing to clearly and publicly condemn Daesh propaganda and its perversion of Islam.
We are also working alongside GCC partners and others in the region to reach a sustainable political agreement to end the conflict in Syria through the International Syria Support Group. GCC States were also instrumental in helping us to work towards the nuclear deal with Iran, which we hope will, in time, contribute to further stability in the region.
How is the UK working with its partners to reassure allies within the region?
ELLWOOD: The UK remains committed to the Middle East. Our mutual security and prosperity rely on our close cooperation with our allies in the region, as set out in the UK government’s Strategic Defence and Security Review of November 23, 2015.
The UK has reaffirmed its commitment to its Gulf partners in a number of ways, such as our expanded naval presence at Mina Salman in Bahrain, which builds on our 200-year-old military engagement in the Gulf. We have also seen a number of ministerial and royal visits in both directions over the last few years, a testament to our committed relationship.
The year 2016 will also see a concerted increase in engagement to further underline our commitment to the region, through defence partnerships, security cooperation, more ambitious trade targets and an increase in people-to-people links such as student exchanges, tourism and cultural events. The UK’s commitment to our Gulf allies remains as firm as our close friendships.
How is UK policy being developed to harness opportunities for UK business and investment into the Gulf region?
ELLWOOD: The potential to increase trade with, and investment from, the GCC is vast, and we want British businesses to seize all the opportunities available to them in this important marketplace.
The GCC states are our seventh-largest export market and have a collective GDP of $1.6trn. Our bilateral trade is valued at £26.7bn and UK exports at £17bn, showing the huge markets that already exist. We’re increasing our cooperation across a range of areas, which we are confident will lead to increased trade and investment. We are also looking at ways to make it easier for UK businesses to take better advantage of opportunities, and how the UK government can offer more support in this area.
What specific sectors do you identify as particularly ripe for UK investment within the GCC?
ELLWOOD: The UK is already actively investing in the GCC in a large number of areas. We see the most significant gains for UK businesses in the GCC in areas such as education, health care, infrastructure, energy and cybersecurity. The GCC has shown an appetite for engagement on security, especially infrastructure, a desire to diversify their economies, and develop their education and health care systems. We also have knowledge we can share on holding big sporting events – an increasing market for the Gulf.
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