The UK will try to use a major summit next month to close a series of investment deals potentially worth billions of pounds with Gulf countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Oman.
The Global Investment Summit will see Boris Johnson and international trade secretary Liz Truss focus their energies on trying to broker investment deals with Middle Eastern states similar to the multi-billion pound agreement signed with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) this year.
The summit will take place on 19 October and will be hosted by the Prime Minister and the Queen.
It is being billed as an event to “bring together the world’s biggest investors” as the UK tries to attract foreign direct investment post-Brexit.
It is understood this will include representatives from state-owned sovereign wealth funds that are based in the Gulf.
A senior Department for International Trade source told City A.M. that the summit would provide an opportunity to close lucrative investment deals with countries in the region as the UK tries to bolster economic ties with the oil rich states.
Another added that there is “a clear ambition” by Truss’ team “to deepen…bilateral trading relationships” with the Middle East.
It comes after the Department for International Trade announced in June that it had completed a review with the Gulf Cooperation Council and had agreed to strengthen economic ties.
The council is a regional trading bloc made up of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain and Kuwait.
The government signed an investment deal with the UAE in March, which will see the country invest £800m in the UK’s life sciences industry.
There will also be an undisclosed amount of investment in a number of other UK industries until 2026, leading to speculation the deal could be worth as much as £5bn.
It was brokered with Abu Dhabi’s Mubadala Investment Company – a state-run wealth fund.
Dr Sanam Vakil, the deputy director of the Middle East and North Africa Programme at the Chatham House think tank, said a similar kind of deal with Saudi Arabia would be the biggest prize for the UK.
Saudi Arabia has the region’s largest economy and is the world’s second largest exporter of oil, but the country’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has been accused of human rights abuses and of ordering the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
“I think the goal would of course be Saudi Arabia – that’s definitely the big fish for the UK,” Vakil said.
“There are tensions and there will likely be criticism from the public. I think moving beyond the political challenges, and optics of those challenges, there are opportunities for British firms whether it be in renewables, services, the consulting sector, health care and education.”
Labour shadow international trade secretary Emily Thornberry said the investment deal with the UAE should not be a “model for achieving” greater inward investment.
“Not only has investment in both directions been falling in recent years, but the UAE deal contains Investor State Dispute Settlement provisions, which we certainly do not want to see replicated in agreements with other countries,” she said.
She added: “This summit is a crucial opportunity for the Department of Trade to reverse the steep decline we’ve seen since 2016 in the number of new projects and new jobs created in the UK through inward investment.”
Bilateral trade between the UK and the Gulf Cooperation Council is around £30bn a year.
Truss has previously said she wants to broker a comprehensive free trade deal with the bloc on top of any future investment deals.
A government spokesperson said: “The UK is the best investment destination in the world and we want to attract investment from a wide range of countries.
“Our Global Investment Summit will bring together the world’s biggest investors, showcasing the best of British innovation and the full breadth of the UK’s investment offer.”