Lord Mandelson, the secretary of state for business, has held talks with the UAE government over the non-payment of UK construction firms in Dubai, writes Roxane McMeeken.

The talks, which were held in London on Monday, were with Sultan Saeed Al Mansouri, the UAE’s interior minister of economy. The minister was in the UK to take part in the inaugural meeting of a joint trade group.

The UK and UAE Joint Economic and Trade Committee (Jetco) is a government-level group overseen by UK Trade & Investment (UKTI), the arm of government that helps British firms work abroad. It has been formed to improve trade relations between the two countries.

At the meeting, it is understood that the UAE asked for it to be made easier for Emiratis to gain UK visas, and for tourism in the Emirates to be promoted more widely in the UK.

A source close to the talks said the UAE government also wanted to discuss opportunities for investing in the UK. For example, DP World, the container port developer, is considering a scheme in the Thames Gateway.

He added: “The UAE wanted to discuss balance of payments, too. At the moment the UAE buys £2.5bn more from us than we do from them, and they are not happy about that.”

Mandelson visited the UAE in April when it is understood he first raised the payment problems UK firms were experiencing.

Meanwhile, UKTI has held talks in Saudi Arabia aimed at making it easier to do business in the country. The talks are being held by the Saudi–British Joint Business Council, chaired jointly by former Foreign Office minister Baroness Symons and Khaled El Seif, founder of Saudi firm El Seif Engineering.

Phil Dowrick, a business specialist in UKTI’s business group, said Symons would discuss payment terms, contract terms and conditions, and the way arbitration is handled.

He said: “Payment terms are still about 90 days, although we are not aware of any bad debts in Saudi.”

He added that terms and conditions could be onerous. “At times all contracts have to be in Arabic, or the British company has to hire an unrealistically large number of Saudi staff.”

The next meeting of Jetco will be in six months in Abu Dhabi.

The UAE buys £2.5bn more from us than we do from them, and they’re not happy