Interview: Liam Fox
How is the UK looking to develop trade with countries of the GCC in the post-Brexit environment?
LIAM FOX: As we begin the process of leaving the EU, the UK will look to build stronger trading relationships with countries around the world, promoting the benefits of free trade, supporting UK companies to export and attracting inward investment.
As part of this work, Theresa May, the UK prime minister, announced a working group on trade and investment between the UK and the GCC at the GCC Summit in Manama in December 2016. This working group will look to explore how we take our trading relationship forward and examine how we can unblock remaining barriers to trade and take steps to further liberalise our economies for the benefit of our mutual prosperity.
How is bilateral policy being developed in terms of streamlining investment and market access?
FOX: We have established a working group on trade and investment to identify potential trade barriers in different markets in the region. Since the referendum, capital investment from the Gulf into the UK has remained strong. We have seen big deals this year, with National Grid receiving £1.4bn of investment from Qatar and Scotia Gas getting £621m from the UAE. In addition, we hosted the Qatar-UK Business and Investment Forum in London and Birmingham in March 2017. This shows that bilateral trade relations between the UK and GCC countries remain strong.
Which sectors of the UAE economy are most attractive to the UK historically?
FOX: The UAE economy is diverse and Dubai is arguably the region’s best example of a diversified economy. The UK has historically played a big part in helping with the establishment of many of the UAE’s most successful sectors. In aviation, retail, financial services, leisure and tourism, and oil and gas, the UK’s past and current contribution is significant. This drive continues and UK companies are finding more opportunities to support the UAE’s ambition and desire to be a global leader in innovation, technology and services, and build a knowledge economy. Projects like Dubai Expo 2020 help to drive this agenda forward, and the UK is very pleased to be participating in this project, which is all about creating the future.
What do you see as the most important outcomes of a potential UK-GCC free trade agreement?
FOX: As the prime minister has said, we want to build a truly global Britain that is one of the firmest advocates for free trade anywhere in the world. Although we cannot negotiate and conclude trade agreements while we are a member of the EU, we can have discussions on our current and future trading relationships.
Our joint working group, which was established when the prime minister attended the GCC Summit, will provide a forum for discussion on building the closest possible commercial and economic relationship once the UK leaves the EU, subject to our future trading relationship with the bloc.
How is the UK improving upon strategic defence collaboration with the UAE?
FOX: At the GCC Summit leaders of the UK and the GCC agreed to launch the GCC-UK Strategic Partnership to foster closer relations in all fields, including political, defence, security and trade, as well as enhance people-to-people contact and develop collective approaches to regional issues to advance their shared interest in stability and prosperity. The communique from that meeting also highlighted the decision by the UK and Gulf states to enhance joint efforts to improve defence cooperation in addition to maritime security and cybersecurity, and we reaffirmed our commitment to working in cooperation on security and political issues of regional importance.
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