In one of his final engagements prior to the British government's invocation of Article 50, International Trade Secretary Liam Fox has said Brexit will "accelerate the changes the UK has to undergo in a globalised world".
Speaking at the Qatar-UK Business & Investment Forum in London on Monday (27 March), Fox told a high-ranking Qatari delegation of more than 400 officials and business executives – including the chief executive officers of Qatar Investment Authority, Qatar Petroleum and Qatar Airways – that Brexit negotiations would be an "auspicious time" to take bilateral trade with the Middle East forward.
"We have to stop viewing things through the prism of Brexit. It would be an appropriate time to showcase what we offer to the world. Qatar and UK are natural allies and I believe that private sector growth in both countries can enhance ties and promote foreign direct investment.
"In fact, the UK private sector has taken the leap and done great things in spheres as diverse as life sciences and healthcare in Qatar, and I expect this to continue. Furthermore, we have a thriving service sector that needs to further its exporting capabilities, and I fully expect it to seek enhanced ties with Qatari partners."
The high-level dialogue with Qatar comes after the governments of India, Australia, New Zealand and others have openly called for enhanced bilateral free trade negotiations with the UK, once Brexit talks commence.
Qatar has a number of strategic investments in the UK, including Harrods, Sainsbury's, the Savoy Hotel and the Shard, and is one of the largest exporters of natural gas to the country. A spokesperson for the Qatari delegation told IBTimes UK that it would be visiting Greater London and the West Midlands to scout for opportunities and court foreign direct investment heading both ways.
The Qatari delegation's visit follows Prime Minister Theresa May's two-day trip to the Middle East last December to strengthen ties with Gulf Cooperation Council economies of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain.
Sheikh Ahmed Bin Jassim Al Thani, Minister of Economy and Commerce for the State of Qatar, said: "The relationship between Qatar and UK has been historically strong. The UK is 6th top exporter to Qatar, while Qatar ranks 7th on the list of UK importers, with over 80 bilateral entities from construction to IT operating in both markets.
"We expect bilateral trade ties to be enhanced over the coming years. Both countries seek a trading relationship that works equally in both directions, as our economies grow. The UK economy is undergoing its own resurgence while Qatar is fast becoming a global centre for knowledge-based industries and innovation, with further opportunities for investment."
Speaking at the same venue, Qatar's energy minister Mohammed Saleh Al-Sada said the UK is a very attractive place for investment and will remain so after Brexit. "Qatari exports of Liquefied Natural Gas sees 5 million UK homes being heated; conversely we see interest from British companies in major power projects in Qatar. Our bilateral relationship stretches back decades and will only be enhanced over the coming years."