Trade experts say World Cup scandals mean UK-Gulf talks must stop

Posted on November 18, 2022
Doha's skyline, capital of Qatar

As the 2022 FIFA World Cup gets underway, organisations are calling for Secretary of State Kemi Badenoch to halt negotiations on a trade deal with the Gulf countries. We urge her to focus on working with them to ensure significant improvements in the protection of human rights and the achievement of climate and environmental goals.

As the 2022 FIFA World Cup gets underway, a group of eight trade organisations have written to Secretary of State Kemi Badenoch to call for the UK to halt negotiations with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Organisations including the Trade Justice Movement, Transform Trade*, the Business and Human Rights Resource Centre and Global Justice Now say that the shocking human rights situation in Qatar and across the region makes it untenable for the talks to continue.

Ruth Bergan, Director of the Trade Justice Movement said “The constant stream of scandal associated with the Qatar games, including the terrible experiences of migrant workers, women and the LGBT+ community has been really shocking. But Qatar is far from the only country where there are serious concerns: countries across the region are failing to uphold human rights. It sends completely the wrong signal for the UK to continue trade negotiations with these countries.

“There are already significant trade flows between the UK and Gulf countries. One of the functions of a trade deal is to signal good diplomatic relations - to say “these are our trusted partners”. Imagine the impact it has on a woman who has been flogged or forced to marry her abuser because she was raped, or the family of a migrant worker who lost their life or was severely injured because of poor labour laws, when the UK simply continues as though there was nothing to see.

“The UK’s current approach to trade deals means that there is nothing to ensure that the provisions in them won’t further entrench issues such as discrimination against women and the LGBT+ community. The UK has, for example, refused to publish a trade strategy or do the hard graft of thinking through how it ensures coherence between its commitments on human rights and its approach to trade deals. The risk is that a deal could make it harder to achieve positive changes.”

Negotiations towards a UK-Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Free Trade Agreement are ongoing with no deadline for completion. The first round of talks was held over the summer. The UK estimates that a trade deal could boost trade by £7.8 billion by 2035. Trade with the GCC is already worth around £40 billion.**

The full letter can be read here.

* Transform Trade is the new name for Traidcraft Exchange

**According to the UK’s scoping assessment:


Image of Doha's skyline, capital of Qatar by ekrem from Pixabay