Gulf Daily News, 6 April 2005
GCC-EU pledge historic FTA
By ABDULRAHMAN FAKHRI
THE GCC is on its way to securing a world first in terms of international economic and trade agrements. Talks with the European Union over the world’s first region-to-region Free Trade Area agreement will be completed by the end of the year, it was declared yesterday. The pledge was made in the final communiqué following the GCC-EU annual foreign ministers meeting, held at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel and Spa.
The meeting was co-chaired by Deputy Premier, Foreign Minister and GCC Ministerial Council president Shaikh Mohammed bin Mubarak Al Khalifa and Luxembourg Deputy Premier, Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister and EU Ministerial Council president Jean Asselborn.
Both sides have committed to enter into negotiations on the FTA based on the1989 EU-GCC Co-operation Agreement.
The negotiations were initiated in 1990 but remained pending until 1999 when the GCC announced its decision to create a Customs Union by March 2005.
It was later advanced to 2003 at the GCC Summit held in Muscat in December 2001.
The EU has since adopted new negotiating directives, aimed at providing for a mutual liberalisation of trade for a comparable level of market access opportunities in line with the relevant provisions of the World Trade Organisation.
Shaikh Mohammed told a Press conference following the meeting that a new round of negotiations would take place in Brussels on June 7.
He said that the Brussels meeting would take the necessary steps to ensure that the required exchanges of offers have taken place sufficiently in advance for fruitful negotiations.
Shaikh Mohammed said several issues which had delayed the negotiations will be addressed soon.
"The GCC states will meet soon to discuss our positions on the points raised regarding services and government procurement," he said.
Shaikh Mohammed said that the European side would also have to discuss the points raised by Gulf countries regarding industrial tariffs, including the petrochemical and aluminium industries.
Mr Asselborn said that the relations between the EU and the GCC had progressed over time.
He said that the main focus of yesterday’s meeting was to speed up the implementation of the FTA.
EU Commissioner for Trade Peter Mandelson said that there were no fundamental obstacles facing the FTA.
"Once signed, it will be the first region-to-region agreement in the world and will offer multiple benefits received from bilateral agreements," he said.
Mr Mandelson said that he believed the signing of the agreement was possible.
"We might have lost some time, but the opportunity is still there," he said.
EU Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy Benita Ferrero-Waldner said the main current goal was to accelerate negotiations on the FTA.
"I personally consider this possible and share this vision with my Gulf counterparts."
She said that the second aim was to expand co-operation and work together for satisfactory solutions on eradication of weapons of mass destruction and promoting human rights.
"We believe that some progress has been made in the region and we welcome these reforms," said Ms Ferrero-Waldner. The third priority is to secure various initiatives in the social and cultural fields.
"I have proposed for work to be carried out in the education sector by providing more scholarships and facilitating university exchange programmes," she said.
Ms Ferrero-Waldner expects to make another visit to the region soon to discuss co-operation in the education sector.
In their final communiqué, the two sides reiterated their determination to further develop political dialogue in order to seek common solutions to the challenges facing them.
They welcomed the recent developments regarding the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, particularly the commitment made by both parties at the Sharm el-Sheikh Summit in February to stop all acts of violence.
The GCC and EU also welcomed the prospect of Israel’s withdrawal from Gaza and from certain parts of the northern West Bank, as an initial stage in the process towards achieving a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the region.
The two sides agreed that the rise of regional and border conflicts, international terrorism, organised crime and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction present serious threats to security.
They said that these fields could only be contained by increased international and regional co-operation.
The GCC and EU welcomed the agreement reached with Iran regarding nuclear issues following negotiations with France, German and the UK.
They also welcomed Iran’s decision to voluntarily suspend all enrichment related and reprocessing activities, urging it to provide full co-operation with the International Atomic Energy Agency in this regard.
Both sides expressed concern at the lack of progress towards resolution of the territorial conflict between the UAE and Iran over Abu Musa and the Tunbs Islands.
On developments in Iraq, they underlined their continued support for the Iraqi people and reaffirmed their willingness to work with the new Transitional National Assembly and with the Iraqi Transitional Government, once it has been formed.
The GCC and EU called on all parties in Iraq to work together to establish a safe, stable, independent, prosperous and democratic Iraq that is at peace with its neighbours and upholds international law.
They also reiterated their condemnation of the terrorist attacks, murders and hostage-taking which have been committed in Iraq.
Both sides reiterated their strong condemnation of terrorism in all its forms and reaffirmed their commitment to combat terrorism.
They expressed their shared willingness to reinforce their dialogue and develop concrete cooperation on human rights, inviting officials to make proposals in this regard.