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What Comes Next? 
Prospects of UK and EU Free Trade with the Gulf

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The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries represent the 4th largest market for European Union (EU) exports. EU-GCC trade has been steadily growing, with the trade surplus tilted in the EU’s favour, yet free trade deal negotiations have stalled and remain, so far, unsuccessful. Meanwhile, post-Brexit Britain is looking for partners to conclude free trade agreements, including with the GCC countries. From this context, the EGIC was delighted to host Jan Zahradil MEP (Vice-Chair of the Committee on International Trade in the European Parliament) and David Campbell Bannerman (Strategic and trade consultant, author and former Member of the European Parliament) for an online information session titled ‘What Comes Next? Prospects of UK and EU Free Trade with the Gulf,’ held on 18 March 2021. 

Due to their extensive experience in the field of international trade as well as European and national politics, the distinguished speakers were able to provide the audience with deep insights into the past, present and future of the EU, UK trade relations with the GCC countries. Looking at the Gulf market’s specifics and level of attractiveness for the EU and the UK (and vice-versa), they provided a realistic assessment of the importance of their trade relations within the wider context of trade with the rest of the world and shed light on their status in the post-COVID-19 era. They also examined the obstacles and some key spoilers to achieving a free trade agreement between the EU and the GCC in the past and what the future holds in that regard, including for the UK’s attempts to ink a free trade deal of their own with the GCC. The discussion also touched upon the role of human rights, public opinion, regional stability and politics in trade negotiations and the overall role of trade in resetting and developing relations between countries. Attention was also paid to the important question of European arms exports and the dominance of hydrocarbons in trade exchange with the Gulf, the importance of balancing interests, and the opportunities that the GCC countries’ economic diversification efforts might offer to shift trade exchange in favour of new areas, such as climate change, digitalisation, AI and new technologies.

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