Union chiefs and campaigners urged ministers to rethink its approach as talks on a deal between the UK and six Gulf nations kick off on Wednesday in Saudi Arabia.
International trade secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan will meet representatives of the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) in Riyadh to begin negotiations with the bloc.
But Paul Nowak, deputy general secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), said the government should not “entertain” a deal without addressing reform.
“The Gulf states’ appalling record on human rights and workers’ rights is no secret, and yet the government is rushing into trade talks, no questions asked,” he said.
Accusing the government of “turning a blind eye to fundamental rights abuses”, the TUC chief said the government should use its leverage “to ensure respect for fundamental workers’ and human rights”
Mr Nowak added: “Banning trade unions, forced labour, severe exploitation of migrant workers and other labour rights abuses are all widespread – as are attacks on women’s rights, LGBTQ+ rights and the oppression of marginalised communities.”
Unlike recent trade deals with New Zealand and Australia, the UK is not expected to pursue agreements on advancing gender equality as part of its negotiation with the GCC – instead raising human rights issues through other avenues.
Amnesty International UK’s head of policy Allan Hogarth said women faced “deep-rooted discrimination” and bans on trade unions “are common” in the Gulf.
“A UK-Gulf trade deal which remained silent on these issues would be wilfully ignoring serious human rights violations,” he said.
The government said a comprehensive post-Brexit free trade deal could boost the UK economy by up to £1.6bn a year.
Trade between the UK and the GCC – which includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – is already worth £33.1bn, making it the UK’s seventh largest trading partner.
The bloc’s demand for international goods and services is expected to increase 35% in the next 13 years.
Ms Trevelyan said: “This trade deal has the potential to support jobs from Dover to Doha, growing our economy at home, building vital green industries and supplying innovative services to the growth.”
The UK is expected to pursue cuts to tariffs on British exports to the Gulf, particularly in the food and drink sector. UK food and drink exports to GCC countries were worth £625m in 2021.
The government will also seek to improve access for hi-tech industries including green technology to help the GCC transition away from reliance on fossil fuels.
This could include reducing the 15 per cent tariff on UK wind turbine parts in order to help the UAE reach its target of generating 50 per cent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2050.
Stephen Phipson, chief executive of manufacturers’ organisation Make UK, welcomed the launch of free trade negotiations with the Gulf Co-operation Council.
He said a partnership on green innovation would bring “significant opportunities for Britain’s innovative renewable energy companies which are already leading the way in this area of global concern”.
Negotiations will also look to increase investment opportunities between the UK and the Gulf, with GCC investments in the UK supporting more than 25,000 jobs in 2019 and the new deal expected to boost local economies in the North and the Midlands.
Source Link Brexit: Ministers warned against trade deal with Gulf states over ‘appalling’ human rights record