GCC and Singapore to start talks on FTA
25 November 2006
SINGAPORE: The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Singapore have agreed to start negotiations for a free trade agreement.
The announcement was jointly made by the GCC Secretariat and Singapore’s Trade and Industry Ministry during Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s visit to Saudi Arabia which began on Saturday.
The GCC countries comprise Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Singapore’s Trade and Industry Ministry says the GCC-Singapore FTA will be a milestone in the strengthening ties between the GCC countries and Singapore.
It will also signify both parties’ commitment to establishing an enduring and mutually-beneficial relationship.
Singapore believes the FTA will help to promote and facilitate the greater flow of goods, services, investment and people between the two economies and play a contributory role towards the process of GCC economic integration.
Economic relations between the GCC and Singapore have grown significantly in both scope and depth over the past few years.
The GCC is currently Singapore’s 7th largest trading partner, with bilateral trade amounting to US$23.7b in 2005, a 43 percent increase over 2004.
Likewise, Singapore is becoming an increasingly significant economic partner for many of the GCC countries.
The GCC-Singapore FTA will contribute to regional and global trade liberalisation and strengthen the multilateral trading system.
Singapore stressed that both parties are committed to an FTA that covers substantially all trade and is consistent with World Trade Organisation (WTO) obligations.
The GCC and Singapore have agreed to hold the first round of negotiations in early 2007, and to endeavour to conclude the negotiations expeditiously.
Meanwhile Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong kicked off his official visit to Saudi Arabia today.
He will be meeting top business leaders at a lunch to be hosted by the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority.
Mr Lee is also accompanied by a high level business delegation from Singapore.
In an interview published in the Saudi Gazette newspaper, Prime Minister Lee noted that Saudi Arabia is a key player in the world energy market, and a major supplier to Asia.
Nearly half of Saudi Arabia’s total crude oil exports and over 60 percent of its refined product exports are sent to markets throughout the Asia Pacific and a significant proportion of this passed through Singapore.
Looking forward, Mr Lee sees much potential for cooperation in other areas like regional headquarters activities, including trading, finance, treasury and shared services.
In addition, Singapore can be R&D centre for offshore oil and gas exploration and production.
There could also be opportunities for further collaboration in logistics services using underground storage in the Jurong Rock Caverns.
Saudi companies could also leverage on the established manufacturing infrastructure on Jurong Island to set up oil refinery and petrochemical activities to be closer to the Asian market.
On Iraq, Mr Lee stressed that Singapore remained deeply concerned over the ongoing sectarian violence there, and Singapore supports the efforts of Iraq’s national unity government to establish stability and deal with the security and economic challenges that confront the country.
Mr Lee called on Iraq’s neighbours and the rest of the international community to continue to extend practical assistance to the Iraqi government as they work to rebuild their country and give the Iraqi people a better future. - CNA /dt