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GCC to press EU for trade accord

posted on 11/01/2002: 757 views

Gulf states are set to press the EU to sign a landmark free trade pact after they removed the main hurdle for the long-sought agreement by endorsing a customs union last month. Foreign ministers from the GCC and the EU are due to meet in Granada next month to discuss the accord and other economic and political issues. It will be the first high-level meeting between the two blocs after September 11, and diplomats expect terrorism to be on the agenda.

Officials at the Riyadh-based GCC Secretariat confirmed that the foreign ministers would meet in late February, and said the trade pact would be the main issue following the approval of the customs union by the GCC summit in Muscat.

Diplomats said they expected the EU to raise the issue of terrorism and measures taken by the GCC to support an international anti-terror drive, including tightening of anti-money laundering laws.

Gulf economists believe the GCC customs union would pave the way for free trade agreement with the EU, but that it would not be signed before tariffs are unified.

After a delay of more than 15 years, GCC states struck an historic deal last year to tear down customs barriers and merge their markets in early 2003. GCC officials hope the customs union would bolster the group's position in economic negotiations with other blocs and at the same time spur growth and investment.

They believe signing a free trade pact with the EU would encourage other major industrial powers, mainly the U.S. and Japan, to follow suit. Besides attracting industrial technology needed for economic diversification programmes, a free trade deal would open up vast markets for GCC petrochemicals, aluminium and other non-oil products.

The EU is the top economic partner of the GCC, with a two-way trade of more than $35 billion a year. The balance has remained largely in favour of the Europeans over the past decade because of lower crude prices and growing EU exports to the oil-rich region.

The GCC is the main oil supplier to the EU. Its GDP is estimated at around $300 billion, less than 10 per cent of EU's. (The Gulf News)


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