Emirates Business 24/7 | 10 June 2008
’EU lobby behind delay in FTA deal’
By Nadim Kawach
The European Union has delayed signing a free trade agreement (FTA) with the six-nation Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) countries because of opposition by a powerful lobby within the EU, a Saudi official was quoted as saying yesterday.
Osama Al Kurdi, a member of the Saudi Shura council (parliament), said the negotiations for the FTA between the two sides have dragged on for a long time and urged GCC members to turn to Japan and other Asian countries.
"The negotiations between the GCC and the EU for a free trade agreement have dragged on more than enough... every time, the EU side brings up issues and demands that have nothing to do with economy or trade," he told the Saudi Arabic language daily Al Jazeera.
"The delay is due to pressure from the EU economic lobby and companies which seem to be very powerful... the Europeans must understand that these negotiations are not for the GCC to join the EU but to find a framework for trade and economic co-operation between the two sides... they must know the GCC states have strong economies and the EU should not consider these negotiations are conducted with a weak economic bloc."
Al Kurdi urged the GCC countries to shift their efforts for securing a FTA with other blocs, including Japan, China, South Korea and Singapore, which, he said, are "more important for the GCC than the EU".
"Some countries are holding similar negotiations with the GCC for a FTA and I think we should give the EU less attention and focus on those countries."
The GCC and the EU have been locked in FTA negotiations since 1990 but the deal has been blocked by differences on export tariffs and other issues. Officials from both sides said early this year they had made substantial progress in the talks and the accord could be finalised before the end of 2008.
GCC officials hope the FTA with the EU would boost their petrochemicals and other exports and at the same time trigger an influx of EU industrial investments, which are needed to support the region’s economic diversification programmes.
German support sought
The UAE will ask Germany to press its fellow members in the European Union to sign a free trade agreement with the GCC during talks by their joint economic commission that began in Berlin yesterday.
Minister of Economy Sultan Al Mansouri is heading the UAE delegation at the two-day talks, which will cover stronger trade co-operation and joint ventures.
"During the last meeting of the commission in Abu Dhabi last year, the UAE side stressed the need for finalising the FTA between the GCC and the EU," said Mohammed bin Abdul Aziz Al Shihi, Undersecretary of the Ministry of Economy. "The UAE will again press for this agreement given its importance in strengthening relations between the two sides in all fields."
In a statement before flying to Germany, Shihi said the talks would cover increasing trade exchange between the UAE and Germany, mainly the Emirates’ exports to that country, which maintains a high surplus in its trade balance.
Ministry figures showed the UAE is the largest Arab market for German products, accounting for nearly 25 per cent of Germany’s exports to the Arab world in 2006. Exports to the UAE jumped by around 17 per cent to 3.4 billion euros in the first seven months of 2007 from 2.9 billion euros in the same period of 2006.