Developing business and political ties with Qatar and other GCC states is among the UK government’s top priorities, said UK Trade Minister Lord David Howell.

Speaking at MEED’s Qatar Infrastructure Projects 2011 conference in London on 4 July, Lord Howell said an MoU between the UK’s Trade and Investment and the Qatar government on ‘host country collaboration’ will be signed shortly amid a renewed effort from the UK government to boost trade links with the emirate.

“We want to double bilateral trade with Qatar by 2015 and be Qatar’s commercial partner of choice,” said Lord Howell, Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, who was delivering the keynote speech at MEED’s Qatar Infrastructure Projects 2011 conference in London. He told delegates that the 2022 World Cup presents a unique opportunity for the UK to share its expertise as fellow host nations.

“We are 400 days away from the opening of the 2012 [Olympic] Games and we are looking to finalise a memorandum of understanding on host country cooperation with Qatar shortly,” he said.

Lord Howell also said that developing economic and political ties with the GCC states had been identified as a strategic priority for UK foreign policy and that an enormous number of initiatives were under way to develop those ties.

“Deepening relations with Gulf states in key sectors is central to British foreign policy,” he said. “In particular, developing a coordinated approach between the UK and the Gulf states, and trade is central to this.”

He said that the UK planned to double British trade to the region by 2015. “There is a very strong and growing relationship between the UK and Qatar,” he said. “Infrastructure development is at the heart of the relationship and hugely important for future development of Qatar. And UK expertise can play key role in this.”

Howell said that UK exports of about £15bn ($24bn) to the region in 2010 combined with more than £10bn of professional services were more than the UK’s combined exports to India and China in 2010. Qatar was the UK’s third largest market in the Gulf.  

Qatari imports to the UK increased by 200 per cent in 2010 on the back of LNG gas supplies through Shell’s South Hook terminal, which opened in 2009. One fifth of Britain’s gas supplies come through the South Hook terminal

He said that the UK welcomed Qatar’s growing presence in international relations “We welcome Qatar’s role in Libya and Qatar’s hugely constructive contribution to comprehensive peace settlement in Sudan,” he said.  “Qatar is a small country playing a big and growing role. There have been increasing number of contacts between the UK and Qatar and there is great deal more that we can do. I look forward to new collaboration as the partnership grows further.”