Gulf News, Dubai, 29/8/2005 (UAE)
Gulf states and EU set to hold FTA talks in New York
By Mariam Al Hakeem, Correspondent
Riyadh: GCC and EU foreign ministers will hold crucial talks in New York next month to remove obstacles hindering a free-trade agreement between the two groups.
The talks, which are to be held on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meetings, will review progress of negotiations after their meeting in Manama two months ago.
The New York talks follow a European Union statement yesterday that it would sign the FTA agreement with the Gulf Cooperation Council this year.
EU Ambassador to Riyadh Bernard Safaj said the two groups were holding intense negotiations in an effort to reach an agreement before the end of this year.
Last month saw a series of talks between technical experts of the two sides to discuss technical aspects of the agreement, informed sources said, adding that these talks had reached advanced stages.
Dr Hamad Al Bazie, head of the GCC negotiating team and deputy finance minister of Saudi Arabia, will lead the negotiating team at the New York talks to discuss outstanding issues after a meeting in Brussels.
The talks will focus on issues related to services and certificates of origin as well as political and economic aspects. The protracted trade talks between the two groups started about 15 years ago.
Issues involving acquisition of arms, migration and labour laws and human rights were major stumbling blocks.
The GCC is the EU’s fifth largest trading partner.
In 2003, GCC exports to the EU reached $19 billion euros and EU exports to the GCC countries hit $36 billion euros.