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China to seek early FTA with GCC

Xinhua News Agency | February 12, 2009

China to seek early FTA with GCC

Visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao said Wednesday that China will seek an early free trade agreement (FTA) with the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).

"The FTA is in the fundamental and long-term interests of both sides and will help deepen their mutually beneficial cooperation and achieve common development," Hu said during a meeting with GCC Secretary General Abdul Rahman Al-Attiya in Riyadh, where the council is headquartered.

"China will work actively toward signing the agreement at an early date," Hu said.

Al-Attiya echoed Hu’s views and pledged efforts to complete the FTA talks as soon as possible.

China and the GCC launched FTA negotiations in July 2004, and the first round of the talks took place in April 2005.

Established in 1981, the GCC now groups six Arab countries — Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

China-GCC ties have witnessed rapid development in recent years, Hu said, citing frequent high-level visits, growing political trust, and increased cooperation in trade and energy.

"The GCC has become an important economic, trade and energy partner of China," he said.

Hu called for setting in motion of the mechanism of the strategic dialogue between China and the GCC at an early date, with the aim to enhance coordination in international and regional affairs.

Hu said the two sides should continue their energy dialogue, make joint efforts to maintain stability on global energy markets and also explore cooperation in non-energy sectors.

China and the GCC held their first energy dialogue in March 2005 when the GCC’s energy panel visited Beijing.

On cooperation on investment and financial issues, Hu said businesses from both sides should be encouraged to expand mutual investment and participate in each other’s infrastructure construction.

Hu said China is ready to strengthen coordination and cooperation with GCC member countries in the financial sectors to jointly respond to the adverse impact of the global financial crisis.

Al-Attiya said bilateral trade has soared in recent years. "Our trade volume has increased to 80 billion U.S. dollars in 2008 from 12 billion U.S. dollars in 2002," he said at the start of the meeting.

Despite the global financial crisis, the economies of GCC member countries remain in good shape, he said.

The secretary general said there is a host of opportunities for GCC members to expand investment and trade links with China and that they hope to forge closer trade ties and cooperate more closely in infrastructure, agriculture, and between small- and medium-sized businesses.

Hu called for expansion of cultural and educational exchanges so as to lay a stronger foundation for the bilateral friendship.

Hu also spoke highly of the crucial role the GCC has played in safeguarding regional security and ensuring stability on international energy markets.

Hu and Al-Attiya also exchanged views on the situation in the Middle East and major international issues.

Hu arrived here Tuesday at the start of his five-nation tour, which will also take him to Mali, Senegal, Tanzania and Mauritius.