The United Kingdom and the six Gulf Cooperation Council states have begun preliminary talks on a free trade agreement, Bahrain said, as London seeks to bolster its trade position post-Brexit. “It brings me great joy and pleasure to officially announce the official launch of FTA negotiations between GCC countries and UK today,” Zayed bin Rashid al-Zayani, Bahrain’s minister of industry, commerce and tourism, said late Friday. It is an “initiative that we have worked tirelessly on realising since the kingdom of Bahrain’s assumption of the GCC presidency at the beginning of this year”, added Zayani. The UK already enjoys strong economic links with the nations of the GCC, comprised of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman. “We shall collectively embark on a new chapter, which will solidify our long standing trade and investment cooperation and build upon the strong foundations forged over the past centuries,” Zayani said. Trade between the UK and the Gulf nations topped 30 billion pounds ($41 billion) in 2020, according to the British government. “A trade agreement with the Gulf Cooperation Council is a huge opportunity to liberalise trade with a growing market for British business and deepen ties with a region that is vital to our strategic interests,” said International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan. “We want a modern, comprehensive agreement that breaks down trade barriers to a huge food and drink market and in areas like digital trade and renewable energy which will deliver well-paid jobs in all parts of the United Kingdom,” she said in a statement. Friday’s talks marked the launch of what the UK government has termed a “14-week consultation calling for the public and business to share their views ahead of negotiations starting in 2022”. Since its exit from the European Union, London has sought to bolster trade ties with partners including the United States, Australia and hydrocarbon-rich Gulf countries.