GCC mulls FTAs with Singapore, Australia
13 December 2005
GCC finance ministers said the six states were considering foreign trade deals with Singapore and Australia to widen existing talks for bilateral accords with some of its member states.
The ministers agreed at a meeting in Abu Dhabi that discussions for Free Trade Agreements (FTA) between the UAE and Australia as well as those between Qatar and Singapore might be used as a basis for a wider deal with the GCC.
’GCC finance ministers agreed to transfer these two agreements (currently under discussion) and similar pacts to the negotiating team to study and use as a guideline and transform them into a group (GCC) agreement,’ GCC secretary-general Abdul Rahman Al Attiya told Wam news agency.
Bilateral FTAs are a controversial issue within the GCC. Some states are already in advanced FTA talks with other countries, while other member states want wider talks for all the GCC.
A free trade pact reached last year between Washington and Bahrain angered Saudi Arabia, which said it contravened GCC accords.
That pact eliminates duties on US exports to Bahrain, creating an economic opportunity for those lower-taxed goods to be reshipped to Saudi Arabia.
Later, Saudi Arabia reluctantly accepted that member states could negotiate deals with the US but not with any other country.
Several GCC states, including the UAE and Oman, are negotiating FTAs with Washington as well as with other countries. The UAE is in talks with Australia and Singapore, and Qatar is also negotiating with Singapore.
The GCC is already in talks with the European Union and aims to sign a long-delayed free trade deal by the end of 2005.
Today’s meeting comes ahead of the GCC’s annual summit, which analysts expect to further discuss FTAs, boosting intra-Gulf trade as well as regional concern over Iran’s nuclear programme.Reuters