TJM's response to the launch of the UK - Gulf trade negotiations

Posted on June 22, 2022
Boris Johnson Visits The Gulf

On Wednesday 22 June, the Government launched negotiations with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) Free Trade Agreement, with the first round of negotiations expected to take place over the summer. The Gulf Cooperation Council is made up of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE.

Reacting to the launch of negotiations, Ruth Bergan, Director of the Trade Justice Movement, said: 

“The Trade Justice Movement feels that by pursuing a deal with the Gulf Cooperation Council, the UK is undermining its own position on a number of critical and serious issues, such as combating climate change, promoting human rights, upholding labour rights and the rights of minorities. Pursuing an FTA with the GCC utterly discredits the Government’s stated commitments in these areas.

“The UK claims to be a world-leader in the fight against climate change, but engaging in trade negotiations with the GCC would wholly contradict that claim. Member states rely heavily on fossil fuels for their domestic energy needs as well as export and investment, there is no commitment to cut gross emissions, and no viable model for climate adaptation or mitigation in any Gulf state. Indeed, Saudi Arabia was recently accused of obstructing and stalling progress on reaching a climate agreement at COP26.

“The UK has enshrined Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism in Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs) with all six GCC members except Saudi Arabia. ISDS allows firms to sue governments for policies which harm their profits, invariably those used to challenge important environmental regulations. As such, they are a major threat to climate action, especially given the high level of investments in oil which could be the subject of challenge.

“Besides its poor record on the environment, the GCC includes some of the most oppressive and politically repressive regimes in the world. Across the region, there are records of appalling treatment of workers, particularly migrant workers, arbitrary detention, unfair trials, use of torture, persecution of ethnic minorities, persecution of the LGBT community, and a treatment of women as second class citizens This raises serious questions for the UK Government, which prides itself as being a leading liberal democracy and defender of global human rights and civil liberties.

“Addressing each of these issues before even considering trade negotiations with the GCC should be a firm red line for the UK, and it is alarming that the Government has not already set out that position.”


Photo: Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. The Prime Minister Boris Johnson meets Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia at the Royal Court in Riyadh during a visit to the Gulf Region. Picture by Andrew Parsons / No 10 Downing Street (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)