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GCC-EU free trade talks on the brink of success

posted on 26/10/2005: 732 views

The European Union and the GCC are on track to conclude a long-delayed free trade agreement by the end of this year, said officials from both sides, after a fresh round of talks in Abu Dhabi yesterday. The next round of negotiations will take place in Brussels on November 24 and 25. "Our aim is to finalise the agreement by year-end, and this round of negotiations has begun very well," said Holger Standertskjold, chairman of the EU delegation to the negotiations.

Talks have moved forward, said Hamad Al Baazi, chairman of the GCC delegation, because both sides are willing to consider the other's demands. "I see it as an encouraging start," said Dr. Hamad Al Baazi, chairman of the GCC negotiating team. "Each side should come out with comments and answers and we are not far from that." The 21st round of EU-GCC talks will conclude tomorrow.

Standertskjold told reporters that there are some outstanding issues to be resolved, however, before the talks conclude. "They include market access not only in goods but in services and investments and government procurements. These are the most important elements in the current round of negotiations that need to be discussed further," he said.

Al Baazi added that there is a need for more coordination between both sides on issues relating to the services and investments sector. The GCC also is critical of high taxes levied by the EU on Gulf refined oil products and aluminium, as well as with its USUS$17 billion trade deficit with Europe. "The aluminium and petrochemical issues are on the agenda and we hope to resolve that," Al Baazi said.

The GCC states want preferential treatment for aluminium and petrochemicals. He said most of the political issues have been resolved and denied rumours that disagreements persist among GCC states. "There was a meeting in Riyadh on October 10 and we agreed on most of the political issues. There are no disagreements but different points of view and this is common in negotiations of such nature," Al Baazi said.

He emphasised that both the EU and the GCC will benefit greatly from a FTA due to growing levels of trade and investments. Standertskjold said free trade agreements between the United States and the GCC were irrelevant to the current discussions. "That is something for the GCC to look at," he said. "But we will emphasise regional integration and the GCC as an organization. (The Gulf News


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