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UK launches major trade push in Saudi Arabia at Riyadh talks

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Five UK ministers will be at the head of a huge British delegation visiting Saudi Arabia this week, as Britain seeks to strengthen trade and cultural ties with the kingdom.

Oliver Dowden, the UK’s Deputy Prime Minister, Lucy Frazer, the Culture, Media and Sport Secretary, Dominic Johnson, the Investment Minister and Nick Markham, minister at the Department of Health and Social Care, have taken a British delegation of more than 450 business and cultural leaders to Riyadh, where the UK is hosting an event called Great Futures, aimed at highlighting the co-operation and partnerships between British companies and institutions, and their Saudi counterparts.

The idea is to showcase British skills and capabilities in sectors that can support Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, the kingdom’s plan to develop the industries of the future.

The UK and Saudi Arabia are set to establish an education task force chaired by Prof Steve Smith, the UK government’s international education champion, and Saudi Minister of Education Yousef Al Benyan to further co-operation in higher education.

So far, 40 higher educational partnerships have been signed, and on Tuesday, Mr Dowden said the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow would become the first UK university to establish a physical presence in Saudi Arabia, at the Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University.

An expanded British role in projects under the Vision 2030 banner is a key goal for the delegation. Saudi Arabia is promoting five lead “giga projects”, expected to attract $3 trillion of investment over the next six years.

“Great Futures will be an important moment for British business,” Mr Dowden said. “We’re opening up our markets to one another, so that investment, exports, tourism and collaboration flows in both directions. Britain doesn’t just endorse Vision 2030, we want to be a part of it.”

Illustrating the point of investing in each other’s economies, new figures show the UK’s north-east region alone stands to benefit from a further £3 billion ($3.77 billion) of ongoing investment from Saudi Arabia, which sustains around 2,000 jobs in and around the cities of Newcastle and Sunderland.

It is hoped that the Great Futures event will help secure more investment across the board, from financial services to higher education.

On Tuesday, the UK will also sign an updated agreement with Saudi Arabia renewing a joint commitment to further investment.

Free-trade agreement

Meanwhile, the UK’s Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch is also in the kingdom for the seventh round of talks towards establishing a free-trade agreement (FTA) with the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), made up of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain.

An FTA could add £1.6 billion to the UK economy, by reducing and eliminating trade barriers and red tape, making it easier for British businesses to trade with all six countries and promote even greater multilateral investment opportunities.

The two-day Great Futures event started on Tuesday and will be followed up with a programme of initiatives throughout the year.

The Great Futures campaign said the programme was “designed to create opportunities, connect with senior government and business decision-makers from Saudi Arabia’s ultra-ambitious giga-projects, and establish long-lasting relationships”.

Longer-term relationships

Speaking ahead of his trip to Saudi Arabia, Ian Stuart, the chief executive of HSBC UK, said he was “excited” to be part of the Great Futures event “where we can offer our support to some of the most dynamic and ambitious firms from the UK and Saudi Arabia and help them to achieve their growth ambitions”.

Sean Doyle, the chief executive of BA, said: “We’re proud to play a role in promoting the UK as a leading destination for business, tourism and investment, and build on our long-standing partnership with the Great Futures campaign to showcase the best of Britain internationally.”

Others in Riyadh this week include Nick de Bois and Patricia Yates, the chairman and chief executive, respectively, of Visit Britain, Vanessa Bosaen, the president of Virgin Music Group, Lionel Benjamin, co-founder of AGO hotels and Jeff Dodds, the chief executive of Formula E.

“Visiting the UK is easier than ever for Saudi nationals with the roll-out of the Electronic Travel Authorisation Scheme, boosting our competitive tourism offer and our welcome to visitors,” said Ms Yates.

“Great Futures will support us to drive growth from this valuable visitor market and to strengthen our longer-term relationships with Saudi trade partners.”

In the field of education there has already been much activity in the run-up to the Great Futures event, which will be attended by Prof Smith.

Meanwhile, Sir Ian Blatchford, the chief executive and director of the UK’s Science Museum Group, will be building on the success of the Museums Hub that was established in Riyadh in February.

The Hub will enable museum professionals, researchers and educators in the UK and Saudi Arabia to work more closely together and build a centre of excellence for science and culture.

“Our clear view is that there is huge potential to support positive change and reform for people in Saudi Arabia by building science engagement amongst citizens and growing a strong, sustainable museums sector,” Sir Ian said.

On Wednesday, Mr Dowden will visit the historic and culturally significant Saudi city of AlUla to discuss deepening relationships and sharing cultural expertise.

Representing the cultural aspects of Britain will be senior figures from the Royal Opera House, the National Theatre, the Southbank Centre and the Edinburgh International Festival.

Updated: May 14, 2024, 2:42 PM

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