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China-Gulf states free trade pact high on agenda

China Daily | 1 February 2023

China-Gulf states free trade pact high on agenda


Foreign Minister Qin Gang called for a China-Gulf free trade zone to be established as soon as possible in a telephone conversation with his Saudi Arabian counterpart Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud.

According to a ministry statement released on Monday, Qin highlighted the need to reinforce the strategic partnership between China and the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council and suggested efforts be made to "establish the China-GCC free trade zone at an early date".

The council, founded in 1981, consists of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

China has been the GCC’s top trade partner in recent years, and the two sides had a 44 percent increase in trade in 2021, according to Xinhua News Agency.

They initiated free trade agreement negotiations in 2004 and the 10th round of negotiations started in September last year.

"If successfully established, the FTA will be the second-largest in the world, topped by the 15-member Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP)," Jiang Yingmei, a research fellow at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences’ Institute of West Asian and African Studies, wrote in a recent article.

Early completion of negotiations was also mentioned in the joint statement issued following the first China-GCC Summit in December last year in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, attended by leaders, including President Xi Jinping.

"Both sides have been earnestly advancing the negotiations, and once they are settled, tariffs will be reduced or scrapped and this will have a major influence will be imposed on the contracting parties’ oil and petrochemical products market," said Li Shaoxian, director of Ningxia University’s China-Arab Research Institute.

"Once the free trade pact is agreed, the total trade volume between the two sides will step up to a higher level and economic and trade relations will in return give a major boost to the progress of their political ties," he added.

Members of the Financial and Economic Cooperation Committee and the Trade Cooperation Committee of the GCC countries "discussed the final report on the technical status "of the free trade agreement negotiations, the Saudi Press Agency reported on Sunday.

Wu Bingbing, director of the Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Peking University, noted that the progress on the negotiations requires good political ties and strategic mutual trust, not only between China and the GCC countries, but also within the GCC countries themselves.

On Monday, Qin also talked with Dutch Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Wopke Hoekstra.

The phone conversation took place after reports said the Netherlands had agreed to join the United States in restricting exports of semiconductor manufacturing equipment to China.

In the phone talk, Qin said Beijing is willing to "jointly champion the stability of the international production chain and supply chain" and "secure an international trade environment featuring openness and order instead of division and chaos".

The most prominent feature of China-Netherlands relations is openness and pragmatism, and greater opportunities will be brought to bilateral cooperation as China strives for high-quality development and high-level opening up, he added.

Hoekstra said the Netherlands will continue to tackle China-related economic and trade affairs in a responsible way.

The Netherlands is ready to work with China to push forward development of the two countries’ open, pragmatic comprehensive partnership, he added.

"We hope that all parties can hold an objective and fair position, act for their long-term interests and the principle of a fair, just market, and make their decisions in an independent and self-reliant manner," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said on Tuesday.

Mao criticized "a certain country "as "it does not hesitate to harm its friends for its own benefits", maliciously blocks and suppresses Chinese enterprises and promotes industrial decoupling.

The bullying, hegemonic behavior harms Chinese businesses and impacts the stability of the global production and supply chain, she added.

 source: China Daily