By Mohammed Abbas
LONDON (Reuters) - British Prime Minister David Cameron will visit the Gulf and Middle East on a three-day diplomacy and trade trip this week, his office said on Monday, adding that selling BAE Systems-built fighter jets would be high on the agenda.
Cameron will visit the United Arab Emirates on Monday, and Saudi Arabia on Tuesday before travelling to another destination in the Middle East, in a trip his office said "was to help Britain compete and thrive in the global race".
The trip is part of a push to improve overseas demand for British goods and services to help drag Britain's economy into a period of sustained growth after the global financial crisis.
In the UAE, Cameron will showcase the Typhoon fighter jet to Emirati ministers, and both Cameron's office and BAE officials have said the Emiratis have shown an interest in placing an order for up to 60 of the aircraft.
He will also discuss with UAE officials how to develop a "strategic air defense relationship", including potential collaboration on military aerospace equipment.
Cameron's office said Saudi Arabia has also signaled that they are interested in placing a second "substantial" order of Typhoon jets, on top of the 72 jets they have already acquired.
Europe's biggest defense contractor, BAE signed a deal for the 72 aircraft in 2007, 24 of which have been delivered. Payment terms for the remaining 48 have yet to be finalized and BAE says profit growth this year hinges on the outcome.
Like other defense firms, BAE faces tough times as governments reduce defense spending due to economic weakness.
The Eurofighter Typhoon was developed by a consortium comprising BAE, Airbus parent firm EADS and Italy's Finmeccanica.
"The UAE, Saudi Arabia and Oman have all expressed an interest in purchasing Typhoons and the government is aiming to secure sales of over 100 aircraft to the region in the coming year, deals that together would be directly worth over 6 billion pounds to British firms," Cameron's office said in a statement.
Britain has historic ties with Gulf Arab states, many of them former British protectorates and regional allies. Areas of mutual interest include facing down threats from Iran, counter-terrorism and securing oil supplies.
The Foreign Office says British exports to the region are worth 17 billion pounds ($27.44 billion), on a par with China and India combined.
However, Arab Spring protests have ratcheted up Gulf sensitivity to criticism over how it deals with dissent, and Britain is finding it trickier to balance its push for human rights and democracy with its strategic and commercial interests.
Discussions with leaders in the region are also likely to include talks on how to bring a peaceful end to the conflict in Syria, as well as how to best handle calls for greater freedoms in the wake of the Arab Spring.
Cameron returns to London on Wednesday to meet German leader Angela Merkel ahead of European Union budget negotiations.
(Reporting by Mohammed Abbas; editing by Jason Neely)
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