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GCC states ’in talks over FTAs’

Gulf Daily News, Bahrain

22 December 2004

GCC states ’in talks over FTAs’


TALKS are pushing ahead for individual free trade agreements with the US for all the GCC states, it was declared yesterday.

Bahrain signed an FTA with the US earlier this year.

All the five other GCC member states are also negotiating their own FTAs, said Bahraini Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister Shaikh Mohammed bin Mubarak Al Khalifa.

He said the issue of bilateral trade agreements involving member states was reviewed at the Zayed (25th GCC) Summit, which ended yesterday at the Ritz-Carlton Bahrain Hotel and Spa.

But further discussions to resolve differences of opinion related to the negotiations were postponed until GCC leaders decide to continue, said Shaikh Mohammed.

He was speaking at a Press conference held at the summit media centre, in the Gulf Hotel’s Gulf International Convention and Exhibition Centre.

"All GCC countries agree on the benefits of bilateral FTAs and no country would sign any agreement if it was harmful to another," said Shaikh Mohammed.

He dismissed as untrue reports that Saudi Arabia intended to impose duties, because the FTA agreement signed by Bahrain and similar deals being negotiated by other member states, were not in line with the GCC Customs union.

"This is far from the truth. What country would impose restrictions? All GCC countries are taking measures to reduce Customs obstacles at entry points," said Shaikh Mohammed.

He also dismissed as untrue reports that Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah had not attended the summit in view of the differences of opinion related to the FTA.

"Crown Prince Abdullah issued a statement today in which he wished the summit every success and Prince Sultan is an outstanding representative for Saudi Arabia at the summit," said Shaikh Mohammed.

He said that the FTA was not an issue exclusive to Bahrain and that all the other GCC states were at various stages of negotiations.

He said that all member states agreed to postpone discussion on the progress of negotiations.

"In fact, discussions were not included in the summit agenda because they were raised one week before it was held," he said.

"Our main objective is to co-ordinate our efforts, which all member states agree is the best solution."

Shaikh Mohammed said that all GCC countries were negotiating a free trade agreement with the US individually, "because the US could not carry out the agreement with the GCC states as a group".

He said that talks between the GCC states and the European Union on economic co-operation and a free trade area would continue.

"However, talks with the EU have taken a long time, more than 15 years. We hope that in a meeting with GCC foreign ministers with their EU counterparts in April, these issues will be resolved," said Shaikh Mohammed.

He dismissed as untrue reports that disputes at the summit had hindered other economic agreements.

"Yes, talks on bilateral agreements were postponed, but all other economic issues were agreed on," he said.

"The final communiqué included 11 economic-related agreements, proposals and directives."