U.K. seeks new post-Brexit trade avenues with Gulf neighbors

U.K. seeks new post-Brexit trade avenues with GCC | Courtesy of Shutterstock
Next week, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May is due to meet with GCC leaders at a summit in Bahrain to talk about what the post-Brexit future will look like for relationships with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the UAE and other neighbors in the region.

The somewhat unlikely Brexit vote has caused a lot of protest from those wanting closer cosmopolitan ties in the region, and has raised questions about trade deals that have so far been worked out under an EU framework.

Now, May and British leadership have their eye on better joint trade relations with GCC countries, which makes sense, given the familiarity between the U.K. and the Gulf states.

Analysts expect the nations to talk about weapons deals and defense trade, since Britain is in the process of building a naval base in Bahrain.

“As the U.K. leaves the EU, we should seize the opportunity to forge a new trade arrangement between the U.K. and the Gulf,” May said in a press statement.

The prime minister continued by adding that new trade deals with GCC partners could “transform the way we do business and lock in a new level of prosperity for our people for generations to come.”

The idea of renewed trade talks with the U.K. has gotten positive responses from leaders in the region like Bahrain King Hamad Al Khalifa.

In addition, a group called the Bahrain British Business Forum (BBBF) was formed specifically to keep strengthening trade ties between the two nations. This group still hopes to grow international trade, in Bahrain and neighboring countries.

“In looking ahead, we are determined to maintain and enhance our reputation as the key business Forum in the Gulf, promoting Bahrain as the regional center from which to conduct business throughout the Middle East,” BBBF Chair Khalid Al Zayani said in a statement on the group’s web site. “However, a large part of our success depends upon encouraging growth in the depth and breadth of our membership. This, coupled with the vision and drive of the committee will enable us to provide more opportunities for networking and the development of long-term business relationships between members as well as with external partners.”

What will the future of U.K.-GCC trade look like?

Butch Herod is the director of the West Houston Institute at Houston Community College. In recent years, Herod lived in Qatar as dean of the college's satellite school there.

In his opinion, the situation depends, to a large extent, on how the British government approaches trade relationships.

“The British have attempted to maintain an active presence in the region,” Herod recently told Gulf News Journal. “I don’t think they’re going to have to start from scratch.”

Nevertheless, he said, there may be challenges related to strong competition.

“It’s all about relationships over there,” Herod said, describing competition for trade by the French, British and Americans during the time he lived in Qatar.

Achieving trade deals, he said, often means building trust, or at least familiarity. In the past, the French have won out on certain weapons contracts by establishing more of a communicative base inside the countries in question, rather than just sending envoys from time to time.

“The British have something of an uphill battle,” Herod said.

That said, the trade results are still up in the air.
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