The Business Year

Liam Fox

UAE, ABU DHABI - Diplomacy

Northern Lights

Secretary of International Trade, United Kingdom


Liam Fox was appointed Secretary of State for International Trade on 13 July 2016. He is the Conservative MP for North Somerset. He attended school at St Bride’s High School before studying medicine at the University of Glasgow Medical School, graduating with MB ChB degrees in 1983. He held several ministerial roles in John Major’s Conservative government. He served as Constitutional Affairs Spokesman (1998-1999), Shadow Health Secretary (1999-2003), Conservative Party chairman (2003-05), Shadow Foreign Secretary (2005) and Shadow Defence Secretary (2005-10). In 2010, he was appointed Secretary of State for Defence, a position from which he resigned on 14 October 2011. Liam worked as a GP before his election to Parliament and is a former Civilian Army Medical Officer and Divisional Surgeon with St John Ambulance.

“We export more to the UAE than to any other market outside Europe except the US, Japan, and China.“

The UAE was one of the first places you visited after taking up the role of Secretary of State for International Trade. How would you assess the current state of UK-UAE bilateral relations?

Relations between the UK and UAE are strong. They have been fortified over many years and date back over two centuries before its formation. We have rich people-to-people links and more than 100,000 British nationals are currently living in the UAE with a further 1.5 million visiting every year. Going the other way, there were nearly 300,000 visitors to the UK from the UAE in the first nine months of 2016, a record number. We collaborate in a broad range of areas because we have shared interests. When our Prime Minister, Theresa May, spoke at the GCC Summit in Manama in December, she stressed that the Gulf’s security is the UK’s security and that the Gulf’s prosperity is the UK’s prosperity. By assuring our shared security, we allow prosperity to flourish. More than 5,000 UK companies are operating in the UAE, supporting bilateral trade which is currently worth around GBP13 billion a year. The UK exports more to the GCC than to China and more than twice as much as to India, and we export more to the UAE than to any other market outside Europe except the US, Japan, and China.

What pivotal areas do you look forward to deepening for the sake of strengthening this strategic partnership?

Leaving the EU will give us the opportunity to reset the agenda and let our partners know that Britain is open for business. The UAE in particular has shown great faith in the strength of the UK economy. Since the vote to leave the EU the UAE’s sovereign wealth funds have invested approximately GBP1 billion in gas distribution, offshore wind, and urban regeneration in the UK. The UAE is our 12th-largest export market. UK exports in 2015 were GBP8.55 billion (GBP6.20 billion in goods, GBP2.35 billion in services)—up 37% since 2009. Our market share (4.66%) is greater than those of France and Italy. In the last six months we have seen huge deals in the UAE for BP, which was awarded a 10% stake in Abu Dhabi National Oil Company’s onshore oil concessions, and for Al Futtaim Carillion, which has just won the contract to build three thematic districts for the Dubai Expo 2020 site. My department has identified 217 high-value campaigns around the world where our government can help British business win significant deals over the next few years. Of those 217, 10 are in the UAE, in areas such as healthcare, education, infrastructure, creative industries, and energy.

A handful of British companies are reshaping the healthcare and education sectors in the UAE. What is the significance of this legacy for the future of thousands of young people in the UAE?

I am proud that UK excellence is in high demand around the world, particularly in these sectors. UK healthcare providers are making a valuable contribution to the thriving healthcare sector in the UAE. UK NHS providers Imperial College London, Moorfields Eye Hospital, King’s College London, and the Maudsley Hospital are all operating facilities in the UAE. In addition to this, Alder Hey Children’s Hospital are providing consultancy to Al Jalila Children’s Hospital in Dubai, and Great Ormond Street Hospital is running a regional clinic coordinating swift referrals back to the UK for complex paediatric cases. The UK is a world leader in education. Four of the top-10 universities, and 18 of the top 100, are in the UK. They are proving to be attractive for the more than 3,000 students from the UAE who come to the UK to study at them every year. But UK education providers are also bringing their expertise to the UAE: 20% of all British universities’ overseas presence is located in the UAE; British curriculum schools cater for 33% of all students enrolled at private schools in Dubai and 22% in Abu Dhabi; and, three British universities (Herriot Watt, Middlesex, and Bolton) have full-blown campuses in the UAE. In addition, the British University in Dubai (a UAE institution) has partnerships with Manchester, Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Cardiff universities. And several other British universities are active in UAE; Exeter, Strathclyde, Salford, Manchester, City University London, London Business School, Bradford, Queens University, and Huddersfield.

Some Abu Dhabi sovereign wealth funds are making significant investments in northern England. How will these investments propel opportunities and spark a mutually beneficial relationship?

This government is committed to building a northern powerhouse to help the great cities and towns of the north of England pool their strengths and take on the world. The northern powerhouse is now recognized across the world as home to billions of pounds worth of exciting opportunities for international investors. There is huge potential, driven by our innovative private sector. It is home to 15.2 million people and contains five of the UK’s ten largest cities. It accounts for 19% of the UK economy and exports over GBP60 billion worth of goods every year. Its levels of FDI are growing at twice the rate of the rest of the UK. Abu Dhabi has been a pioneer in investment into the north, including over GBP1 billion committed to urban regeneration in Manchester and GBP30 million into a Graphene Engineering Innovation Centre at Manchester University. The UK government too is investing in the north in transport, skills, science and culture. This includes GBP13 billion on transport up to 2020, funding ground breaking scientific projects and supporting exciting arts and sports ventures across the region. This joint approach makes us partners in prosperity. The UK offers the supportive environment that investors need: we are the fifth-largest economy in the world and were the second-fastest growing economy in the G7 last year. We are the highest ranked major economy on the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business index. At 20%, our headline tax rate is the lowest in the G7 and joint lowest in the G20. This will reduce to 19% in April this year, and to 17% in 2020. We also have skills and talent, with four of the world’s top-10 universities based in the UK. The UK is simply a great place in which to invest.

The UK is looking to further reinforce its ties with the GCC. What is the role the UAE plays to achieve this endeavor?

As the Prime Minister said during her address to the GCC leaders, the UK seeks not just to reaffirm a relationship that is of great historic value but to renew a partnership that is absolutely fundamental to our shared future: a partnership in politics, defense, security, development, and commerce. The Prime Minister has been very clear about the scale of our ambition and the extent of our determination to establish the strongest possible trade and investment relationships between the UK and the Gulf. A mechanism to help us achieve this is the new UK-GCC Joint Working Group which will examine how to unblock remaining barriers to trade and take steps further to liberalise our economies. We will work closely will all the members of the GCC as we develop and strengthen our relationship with the entire region.



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