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GCC customs pact won't affect WTO membership

posted on 14/05/2002: 728 views

An agreement by the six GCC countries to unify their customs tariffs and merge their economies next year will not affect their membership of the World Trade Organisation and their individual commitments to its rules, the UAE said yesterday. A memorandum prepared by the Ministry of Economy and Commerce found that the GCC customs union which will be enforced at the beginning of 2003 does not contradict the conditions and rules within the Geneva-based global group. The memorandum would be discussed by the GCC's WTO Committee, which is scheduled to meet in Riyadh today to discuss coordination of stands at WTO meetings.

Ministry officials said the UAE memorandum points out that "the aim of creating a GCC customs union is to facilitate trade among member states rather than create barriers for trade with other countries outside the GCC." "According to WTO terms, the creation of any customs union should not lead to customs tariffs which are higher than they were before the establishment of the customs union."

GCC states have preliminary agreed on a common five percent duty on foreign imports within the customs union, the first virtual collective market merger in the Middle East. Although the level is little higher than the tariffs levied in the UAE, it is far below duties imposed in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and other GCC members. such duties exceeded 20 percent on some products as a protection measures.

GCC governments have cleared most obstacles for the launching of the customs union but are still haggling over tariff revenue distribution and the rights of exclusive trade agents. The paper has been prepared by Saudi Trade Minister Osama Al Faqih, who has been locked in negotiations with WTO to break opposition to the Kingdom's bid to acquire membership. Saudi officials have said they would not give concessions regarding some WTO demands that the Kingdom lift a ban on import of liquor and other prohibited items.

GCC heads of state holding their annual summit in December are expected to give the final go-ahead for the customs union, which will give birth to the biggest economic bloc in the Middle East and spur trade and investment among members. (The Gulf News)


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