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Gulf expects EU trade deal by June


Gulf expects EU trade deal by June

5 March 2007

Gulf Arab states and the European Union are likely to finalise a free trade deal by June, the secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council said on Monday.

"We will be meeting in April for a drafting round in Riyadh and we hope to conclude our negotiations [then]," Abdul-Rahman al-Attiya told reporters on the sidelines of a conference in the United Arab Emirates capital Abu Dhabi.

The two sides will hold a joint ministerial meeting on May 8, also in the Saudi capital, Attiya said.

"We hope that after the drafting committee meeting and the other meeting in Riyadh we will finalise things," he said.

The Gulf Cooperation Council is a loose political and economic alliance which includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.

Talks between the bloc and the EU began in 1990 but were slowed by the GCC agreeing only in 1999 to move towards forming a customs union and a new EU negotiating strategy adopted in 2001 to include the services sector in the talks.

EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson said on Feb. 25 restrictions on investment and access to the services sector continued to stand in the way of a free trade deal.

But many of these issues were resolved at a meeting in Brussels, Attiya said.

"I was pessimistic earlier [but] now I am optimistic because we have almost completed negotiations two days ago in Brussels," he said. "There are only minor issues relating to services and investment and they are negotiable."

The EU is the GCC’s top trade partner, while the Gulf group ranks number six for the 27-nation EU.