euronews: Simon Penney, British Trade Commissioner for the Middle East and British Consul General for Dubai and the Northern Emirates. They have two different roles…
Simon Penny: Like I said, I have two offices. One is the role of Trade Commissioner, which gives me a role across the Middle East, supporting British trade interests in 12 countries. But I am also the British Consul General in Dubai and the Northern Emirates. Later, I deal with Britain’s relationship with Dubai and the other Emirates.
euronews: Report on the special relationship between the United Arab Emirates and Great Britain.
Benny: We are fortunate and in a privileged position as Britain’s relationship with what is now the United Arab Emirates dates back to 1820 when the Emirates became a protectorate of the United Kingdom and remained so until the formation of the United Arab Emirates in 1971. So it is a relationship that spans more than a century and a half, and includes cultural ties humanitarian and economic. This is very important for our future relationship. You saw that Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed visited our Prime Minister Boris Johnson in London. This visit was answered last month when our Prime Minister visited the United Arab Emirates.
Strategy, economics and development
euronews: It’s a great job – and so versatile in everyday chores.
Benny: So it is. Anyone who has done business in the Middle East, not just the United Arab Emirates, knows that this type of politics is tied to the economy. Having a business and policy oriented major is an advantage because I work here and across the Gulf with our hosts on developing strategies, business and economic models.
euronews: What is the importance of strengthening trade relations between the Gulf Cooperation Council countries and the United Kingdom?
Benny: The Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf is the third largest sales market for Great Britain outside the European Union, after the United States and China. This is a good basis for expanding our business relationship. This relationship was worth more than £40 billion before the pandemic and includes a range of businesses that are important to Britain but arguably more important to the economic transformation taking place here in the Gulf.
euronews: This is arguably more important than ever now that Britain has left the European Union.
Benny: This is correct. This gives us more independence and the opportunity to shape our future with the Gulf states and the Middle East. We are working on a free trade agreement with the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council. Yesterday I was in Jordan, we have a partnership agreement with that country. This is an extension or renewal of the agreement between Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. This gives us more room to deal with the areas that affect our countries.
FTA: We want to start negotiations within the year.
euronews: You mentioned the FTA. What is the current situation and why is this important?
Benny: We have reached out to all shareholders who have an interest in our future business relationship with the GCC. We started this at the end of last year and completed it in January. Now we are working with the Cooperation Council on what the agreement will look like. We want to start negotiations during the year.
euronews: What does the future hold for exports to this region and vice versa?
Benny: My mission is the Middle East, not just the UAE and the Gulf. I was in Jordan and we have a partnership agreement with that country. We transformed the agreement that existed between the European Union and Jordan into an agreement between two countries. We are closely watching the growth of the relationship with Jordan. A similar agreement exists with Lebanon, which is also present in this area.
euronews: The United Arab Emirates is Britain’s twenty-fifth largest trading partner in the world. How have supply chains been affected by the pandemic?
Benny: Covid has shown all countries how complex everything around the world is and how much we depend on others for essential services. Especially here in the Gulf, this applies to food and medicine. The Gulf states and the UAE in particular have stood by to protect their supply chains. This has made the UK and all the countries I interact with focus on what future supply chains should look like. This includes reducing dependency on a single source and spreading dependency across multiple shoulders. It is no surprise that we are working hard with our partners in the Gulf and the Middle East to shape the future supply chains of our two countries’ relationship.
From the private sector to the public service
euronews: You have not always been in government service, but you have previously worked in the private sector in Dubai. How do you feel about the transition?
Benny: I have spent most of my career in banking. I have lived in Dubai for 13 years. It’s a big difference going from a bank to a government. The role of trade commissioner is most similar to that, you work in the same fields as before in banks. It’s about relationships, support, and money to trade. You have been able to pass on many of these skills. A large area is the foreign investment in the UK. Much of my banking work has been related to sovereign wealth funds, which I now tend to do a lot in my role as trade commissioner. Last year we signed a £10 billion deal with the UAE’s sovereign wealth fund. The deal relates to foreign investment in the UK in areas of interest to the UAE and the UK. It is a great honor to work in the private sector here and now to take up the position of Consul General. More than 100,000 Britons live in the UAE, many of them in Dubai. It is an honor and a privilege to take on my responsibility to look after the British nationals who live or travel here.
Dubai: the fundamental change
euronews: I have seen how Dubai has changed over the years I have lived here. How did Dubai establish itself as a commercial location and a global trading center?
Benny: Everyone here can see it with their own eyes. Over the past two decades, Dubai has undergone a radical transformation. But this is not limited to Dubai or the United Arab Emirates. Just go to Qatar, Saudi Arabia or other Gulf countries. Significant economic change can be seen, which will continue in the coming years and decades. This is a great opportunity for the UK, but especially for UK companies looking to enter new markets.
euronews: We are located in the premises of the British Embassy. This place is steeped in history. When the site was developed in the 1960s, there was nothing about it.
Benny: There was very, very little here. There are beautiful black and white photos of the site from then, from the 1950s and 1960s. As far as the eye can see, there was nothing but desert and sand. The location of the British Embassy in which we are located was very close to the original downtown area of Dubai. If you were to take the same aerial photos today, you would see that the site is just as integrated as other embassies, which is indicative of economic expansion.
euronews: What are your hopes for the remainder of your term?
Benny: There are a few things that I consider successful. You campaigned for a free trade agreement with the GCC. I know the UK wants to solidify the deal because it will give British companies a competitive advantage. Another is to expand our work with sovereign wealth funds and governments in the region to seek foreign investment in the UK. But it is not only about the use of money in Great Britain, but also about how British policy can help here. The third thing is to work with British companies to identify economic barriers and help work with host governments to facilitate business.