GCC-British Economic Forum tackles Brexit
London - The second GCC-British Economic Forum, which included lengthy discussions about Brexit, brought together policymakers and senior industry representatives from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the United Kingdom.
Organised by the Arab British Chamber of Commerce (ABCC), the forum was titled Vision, Challenges and Ambitions: Integration Prospects for a Better Future.
It was officially opened by ABCC Secretary-General Afnan Al-Shuaib. Attendees included Saudi Ambassador to the United Kingdom Prince Mohammed bin Nawaf, GCC Secretary-General Abdul Latif al-Zayani, Saudi Minister of Commerce and Investment Majid al-Qasabi and Britain’s Prince Andrew, who gave the inaugural address.
“The relationship between the United Kingdom and the GCC has always been important; it has always been based on mutual friendship and respect and cooperation and collaboration,” Prince Andrew said.
“The circumstances we now find ourselves in mean that that history has been brought up right here to the present day. Now we are looking at relationships in the region in a subtly different way,” he said, referencing Britain’s referendum to leave the European Union.
“The GCC is a very, very important trading partner for the United Kingdom — be that inside or outside the European Union — and probably more so with the UK once we are out of the European Union,” he said.
“Yes, there is going to be a period of difficulty and uncertainty while a huge range of knotty subjects have to be negotiated… but at the end of that I believe there are opportunities not only for the United Kingdom but also the GCC.”
The keynote address by Zayani stressed the economic and social challenges facing the GCC, while highlighting the security issues of concern to the entire Middle East region.
Zayani said he was confident in the British government’s ability to implement the Brexit referendum, adding that the GCC and Britain will continue developing their partnership in both the political and economic fields.
Qasabi spoke about the need for regional reform.
“The forces of change we face include a dramatic drop in revenue from oil, a rapidly growing young population, with around 50% of GCC nationals under the age of 30, a shortage of jobs for our young population, the need to expand our infrastructure and services at least as fast as our population growth and the need to diversify our economy and improve production and competitiveness against a backdrop of slowing global growth and increased competition,” Qasabi said.
He added that the kingdom was addressing these challenges through national initiatives such as its Vision 2030 reform plan and through GCC initiatives.
“At the regional GCC level, the GCC has adopted [Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud’s] vision to consolidate GCC cooperation in economic, political, social, military and security fields and strengthen the council’s role at the international arena,” he said.
Emphasising the traditional relationship between Britain and the GCC, British Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox said that ties were deepening and broadening an already strong relationship.
“We have set up a new Gulf fund, committing 100 million pounds ($131 million) over five years to support collaboration on practical issues in our mutual interests, such as cyber and national infrastructure security,” Fox said.
The meeting addressed key themes of mutual interest over five sessions, each of which involved leading experts presenting perspectives on the issues followed by a question-and-answer session.
The sessions focused on economic reform, youth entrepreneurship, social and economic development, the role of public private partnerships in securing investment and the effect of Brexit on the GCC.