Secretary-General of the Arab League to Majalla: Brexit is a Good Opportunity for the UK-Arab Economic Relationship

A Wave of Optimism at the British-Arab Economic Summit for Post-Brexit UK-Saudi Trade

The Arab region needs to harness the huge, untapped potential of the region’s youth and meet the “strong demand for employment” in order to develop and prosper, the Secretary-General of the Arab League Ahmed Aboul Gheit said at the Arab-British Economic Summit 2019: A Share Vision in London on 3 July in London.

“The importance of the summit is to find solutions to revive the economies in these countries, to empower youth and provide sustainable development. This joint work is the essence of making this summit successful. Our mutual future is full of opportunities in all sectors including trade, finance, energy, and infrastructure in the Arab world,” he said during his opening speech.

The summit succeeded in bringing together business representatives from all over the Arab World and across the regions of the UK to discuss their shared vision of working together to achieve common prosperity and to seize on the enormous opportunities that are opening up in key sectors. It was organised by the Arab British Chamber of Commerce (ABCC) whose Secretary-General and CEO Mr Bandar Ali Reda was praised by ABCC Chairman, Rt Hon Baroness Symons in her opening statement for his vision and for having made a huge impact since he took up his post at the Chamber only a few months ago.

In an interview with Majalla on the sidelines of the summit, Mr Aboul Gheit said that as Britain departs from the European Union, it will seek to enhance its global position by developing closer relationships with non-EU states.

"Britain is one of the big economies and is a member of the G7 and G20. Britain is a very advanced economy. Britain witnessed the First and Second Industrial Revolutions and contributed to the Fourth Industrial Revolution in communication technology and thus has very high investment potential,” he said.

“On the other hand, Britain is on the verge of a crucial turning point in its relationships with the rest of the world. If Britain leaves the EU, it will need to open up to many parties and international economic groups as it seeks to build deeper relationships with the United States, Asia, Latin America, and Africa.”

The Secretary-General of the Arab League said that the post-Brexit environment will also open the way for closer British-Arab economic relations and will uncover trading and economic opportunities that can enhance the prosperity of the two regions and spur sustainable growth.

“The Arab region is a strong economic zone. The Arab world has a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) exceeding 2.5 trillion dollars annually and thus it has great economic power and wants sustainable development either through investments in Britain or through British investments in its own countries,” he said.

The Arab region records the highest youth unemployment rates in the world. Mr Aboul Gheit told Majalla that the UK-Arab economic relationship could help create new job opportunities and support the region in its transition to the Fourth Industrial Revolution technologies.

“They need jobs for their youth, the transfer of scientific and communication technology, and the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and thus there is a good opportunity for both parties to work together and it is important that they have the will to achieve this goal,” he said. 

During his opening speech, the Secretary-General of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) HE Abdullatif Al Zayani said that he believed the “young and growing population” in the region are an asset and that technological advancements among the youth meant they were best placed to reap the benefits. 


Secretary-General of Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) HE Abdullatif Al Zayani speaking at the Arab-British Economic Summit 2019: A Share Vision in London on 3 July in London. (Majalla)

“If our societies can harness the energy and resourcefulness of our young people then they can lead us into a vibrant new world with technologies and possibilities we could not have dreamed of a few years ago, but which to them are second nature,” he said.

Mr Zayani said it was important to instill in young men and women the spirit of innovation, entrepreneurship and leadership, and the knowledge of science and emerging technologies. “Only then will our nations be able to compete globally in this new era,” he added.

On the sidelines of the summit, the UK’s Trade Commissioner for the Middle East HM Simon Penney told Majalla that the UK is focused on expanding its technological footprint in Saudi Arabia and GCC.

“In the areas of new technology and innovation, in which the UK leads globally, and particularly in areas like FinTech, EdTech, and MedTech, we are very keen to partner with companies in Saudi Arabia and across the broader region in developing those further,” he said.

Mr Penney said that Brexit and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Vision 2030 - which introduced visionary new reforms to reduce its dependence on oil and diversify its economy - have opened a big agenda for furthering trade and economic cooperation.

“Brexit offers us many opportunities in the region and we are already seeing an increase in interest from UK firms wanting to be involved with export in the region, particularly around Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030,” he said.

“We will be visiting Riyadh on Sunday for ministerial meetings which are a follow up on our obligations and commitments that we made around vision 2030. We are focused on how we and UK companies can help realise the ambitions set out by the Crown Prince in Vision 2030.”

These sentiments were echoed by Rt Hon Baroness Symons, who previously served as Minister of State for the Middle East and Minister of State for Trade and Investment. She told Majalla that the UK is committed to supporting the implementation of Vision 2030 across a range of sectors.

“I attended the roundtable when His Royal Highness was here and he explained Vision 2030 to us and there was a great deal of enthusiasm for it. I very much hope that it will be part of the dialogue that we will be continuing with Saudi Arabia. We are going to be looking at a roundtable discussion over the next few days concentrating on Saudi and I am sure that there will be a great deal more that people want to discuss about young people, the future, IT, and the whole range of issues that are of mutual interest to us,” she said.

On a broader note, the Baroness said that there are huge opportunities for trade and investment in a wide range of sectors including new technology, sustainable development, renewable energy, education, infrastructure, and healthcare across the region where there are many young men and women in need of jobs.

The air of optimism about the impact of Brexit on the British-Arab economic relationship was also shared by the President of the Union of Arab Chambers H.E Mr Mohamed Abdo Saeed and the Chairman of the Council of Saudi Chambers H.E Dr Sami Al. Alabidi.

“I think that the UK’s exit from the EU will be a positive opportunity for the Arab world and Britain to broaden their bilateral trading and investment relationship,” Mr Saeed told Majalla, adding that the “special” and “historic” relationship between the UK and Saudi Arabia, in particular, would benefit greatly. 

Mr Alabidi, who participated in a session on infrastructure investment and sustainable development by sharing lessons learned from Saudi Arabia’s experience and recommendations for other countries in the region, told Majalla that there are many opportunities for investment with the UK post-Brexit and a closer commercial relationship with some of the Arab countries will be the UK’s “best alternative” to its trading relationship with the EU.

Haifa Fahmoum Al Kayla, Founder and Chairman of the Arab International Women’s Forum told Majalla that the Arab-British Economic Summit addresses the most pressing issues in the region such as renewable energy, economic security, water scarcity, infrastructure, and youth and that the UK could play an important role in supporting the region to address its most urgent needs. 

“The UK is at the cutting edge of the Fourth Industrial Revolution as a tech hub for entrepreneurs as well as leading in its research in the fields of agriculture and so many other fields. There is a lot of valuable exchange and mutual learning between the UK and Arab region where we can enhance and strengthen these ties for the benefit of all parties,” she said.

Thirteen of the fifteen countries with the lowest rates of women participating in their labour force are in the Middle East and North Africa, according to the 2015 Global Gender Gap Report. Ms Al Kayan says that getting more women into work and having their work recognised is key to economic sustainable growth in the region. “I speak not as a feminist, I speak as an economist; if we do not utilise 50 percent of the population how can we move forward?” she said.

Al Kayan pointed to the momentous changes underway for women in Saudi Arabia as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has lifted a number of key restrictions on their rights as part of the wide-ranging social and economic Vision 2030 reform initiative. She told Majalla under the “outstanding vision” there have been “impressive, outstanding high-level appointments and the women are there to take these responsibilities and lead with them. We are very proud of the role of women in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Saudi youth in helping implement the vision of Saudi 2030.”

She also highlighted that the “good story of the Saudi woman started a long time ago through education” and that Saudi women have held important positions in business and various sectors.

“Since the inception of the Arab International Women’s Forum 18 or 19 years ago we have always amazing Saudi women leaders on our board as well as in our memberships,” she added.