UK Ministers Lead Delegation to Saudi Arabia Amid Controversy

A 450-strong British delegation, led by Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden, visits Saudi Arabia to strengthen trade and cultural ties. The GREAT Futures Initiative Conference aims to boost investment, trade, and cooperation in sectors like tourism, education, and healthcare.

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Nitish Verma
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UK Ministers Lead Delegation to Saudi Arabia Amid Controversy

UK Ministers Lead Delegation to Saudi Arabia Amid Controversy

A high-level delegation of 450 British businesses and cultural leaders, led by Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden, is visiting Saudi Arabia this week to strengthen trade and cultural ties between the two nations. The delegation includes five UK ministers: Lucy Frazer (Culture, Media and Sport Secretary), Dominic Johnson (Investment Minister), Nick Markham (Minister at the Department of Health and Social Care), and Kemi Badenoch (Trade Secretary).

Why this matters: The strengthening of trade ties between the UK and Saudi Arabia has significant implications for thebusiness, economy particularly as the UK navigates its post-Brexit landscape. The deal could set a precedent for future trade agreements between Western nations and Gulf states, shaping the future of international trade and investment.

The visit aims to bolster trade links and investment opportunities between the UK and Saudi Arabia, showcase British skills and capabilities in sectors supporting Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030, establish an education task force to further cooperation in higher education, and expand British involvement in Saudi Arabia's "giga projects" worth $3 trillion over the next six years.

The GREAT Futures Initiative Conference, a joint project organized by the UK government's GREAT Britain and Northern Ireland campaign in partnership with the Saudi government, will take place on May 14-15 in King Abdullah Financial District, Riyadh. The conference will feature 47 sessions and workshops with 127 speakers from both public and private sectors, focusing on 13 sectors such as tourism, culture, education, health, sports, investment, trade, and financial services.

Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden emphasized the significance of the event, stating, "Great Futures will be an important moment for British business... We're opening up our markets to one another, so that investment, exports, tourism and collaboration flows in both directions." British Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Neil Crompton added, "Over the next two days, senior leaders from both our kingdoms will forge partnerships that seeks, stronger, ties our economies, from cultural institutions to cutting-edge technologies."

The visit comes amid reports that Saudi forces were authorized to use lethal force to clear land for the construction of Neom, a £400 billion desert city that is part of Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 strategy. Human rights groups have raised concerns over the eviction of villagers and the death of one protester. The UK government has defended the visit, citing the importance of the UK-Saudi Arabia relationship for national and economic security while stating that it regularly bin Saudi counterparts.

The summit is expected to result in several key developments, including the University of Strathclyde in Glasgow becoming the first UK university to establish a physical presence in Saudi Arabia, an updated agreement renewing the joint commitment to further investment between the two countries, and progress towards a free-trade agreement between the UK and the Gulf Co-operation Council that could add £1.6 billion to the UK economy.

The high-profile delegation, which includes executives from firms like HSBC Holdings Plc and British Airways Plc, reflects the UK's efforts to strengthen its economic ties with Saudi Arabia. Bilateral trade between the two countries increased by 68% in 2023, amounting to £17 billion. As the UK navigates its post-Brexit economic landscape, securing trade deals and attracting foreign investment remain crucial priorities.

Key Takeaways

  • UK delegation of 450 business & cultural leaders visits Saudi Arabia to strengthen trade & cultural ties.
  • Deal could set precedent for future trade agreements between Western nations & Gulf states.
  • UK-Saudi Arabia trade increased by 68% in 2023, amounting to £17 billion.
  • Summit aims to establish education task force, expand British involvement in Saudi "giga projects" worth $3 trillion.
  • Expected outcomes include University of Strathclyde's Saudi presence, updated investment agreement, and progress towards free-trade agreement.