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Gulf state trade deal must not compromise UK values, MPs urge

26 April 2023

The International Trade Committee today publishes its report on UK trade negotiations with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

The Committee’s report assesses key areas of opportunity and risk around the ongoing negotiations with the alliance of six Gulf states. It also highlights major regional concerns including on human rights and weak environmental standards, and calls on the Government to ensure UK values and obligations are not compromised by any deal.

The cross-party Committee of MPs expresses its extreme concern about substantial and persistent human rights abuses in GCC countries, particularly women’s, LGBTQ+ and labour rights. The MPs recommend the Government evaluates the likely impact of an agreement on human rights in the GCC, including specific assessments on the impact on both women and LGBTQ+ people, ahead of signing a deal.

The Committee notes that a deal with the GCC raises questions as to how the UK wants to be perceived as a trading nation. This is epitomised in issues around values, human rights and standards. The MPs call for any deal to contain binding commitments protecting people and the environment, including:

  • Setting standards and future aspirations for the rights of minority groups, women and LGBTQ+ people.
  • Tightening UK modern slavery laws to ensure the UK does not become complicit in labour rights abuses through its supply chains.
  • Pledges on decarbonisation and tackling the risk of carbon leakage.

The Committee notes that a deal with the GCC presents a significant opportunity for UK exporters, and in particular for the agri-food, green tech, renewable goods and financial services sectors.

To make the most of the deal, the Government will need to provide further support and guidance to exporters, including targeted sector specific support and the publication of a comprehensive trade strategy.

The lack of a trade strategy, an issue the Committee has repeatedly raised, also means that MPs have been unable to fully understand the Government’s position on key aspects of the trade negotiations. The Government also failed to provide a Minister to give evidence to the Committee, a pattern of behaviour in dodging Parliamentary scrutiny which the Committee has criticised previously.

Chair comment

“A trade deal with the GCC, like any major free trade agreement, of course represents a potential economic opportunity for the UK. But this particular deal is about something even more important. The approach we take here will be about how we see ourselves as a society, how we are seen around the world, and whether we are willing to put our values on human rights and the environment on the negotiating table.

“We have heard promises in the past that more trade will not come at the expense of human rights. But the UK is negotiating a trade deal with a bloc including countries that the Government itself has assessed as having particularly concerning human rights issues.

“The Government needs to make plain what sort of trading nation we want to be. A trade strategy and transparent approach to scrutiny from a Minister would have been helpful in this regard, but with no strategy forthcoming and the Department’s refusal to send a Minister to speak to our Committee, it is difficult to assess whether we will be getting the right deal which will benefit the UK and its people.”

Further information:

  • The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) is a political and economic alliance comprised of six countries: The United Arab Emirates (UAE), The State of Bahrain, The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, The Sultanate of Oman, The State of Qatar, and The State of Kuwait.
  • Following changes to the machinery of Government, which saw the abolition of the Department for International Trade and the establishment of the Department for Business and Trade, the International Trade Committee is to be disbanded on Wednesday 26 April, to be replaced by the Business and Trade Committee.