Gulf News | April 28, 2009
EU-GCC free trade talks to resume after being derailed in December
By Sunil K. Vaidya, Bureau Chief
Muscat : The European Union (EU) and the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) Joint Council meet today at the Al Bustan Palace Hotel to put on track the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) talks that were derailed by the GCC last December.
According to diplomatic sources, disagreement over human rights and democracy was a major reason behind GCC suspending the FTA talks after almost 20 years of negotiations.
While both the EU and GCC seem keen to resume the FTA talks, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) has called upon the EU and GCC ministers to put human rights at the centre of their relations in all fields.
"FIDH takes note of the recent public declarations by GCC governments on the resuming of EU-GCC talks on a free-trade agreement.
"In this context, FIDH calls on both parties to guarantee that these negotiations will reinforce, and not diminish, their international obligations and joint commitments to promote and protect human rights, by finally agreeing on the essential inclusion of a human rights clause in the negotiated Free Trade Agreement," Karine Appy, Press Attache for FIDH told Gulf News from Paris.
The FIDH has asked both parties to commit to improving the general situation of human rights in the GCC countries when they sign the FTA.
Recently, British Business Secretary Peter Mandelson admitted during his trip to the Gulf region that there were fewer barriers to securing an FTA between the EU and the six GCC states than in the past.
"I think the remaining barriers are few, and with political will we will be able to climb over them," he said in a statement to the media in Bahrain earlier this month.
Although the FTA talks have stalled for over two decades, the EU remains the biggest trading partner of the GCC.
Ironically, while the FTA talks with the EU dragged on for 20 years, it took some of the GCC states not more than five years to seal bilateral FTA negotiations such as those with the US.
While the EU has powerful economic interests in liberalising investment rules in the Gulf states, political issues are believed to be blocking the agreement. These include demands by the EU concerning meeting standards of democracy and human rights.
Human rights groups such as the FIDH have urged the EU to insist on respect for freedom of the press, women’s rights and labour rights of migrant workers in the Gulf countries in return for any trade concessions granted through the FTA.