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Gulf trade talks may widen

The Australian, Canberra

Gulf trade talks may widen

By Joseph Kerr, Trade

22 June 2006

THE Government will look at expanding its free trade negotiations with the United Arab Emirates to take in a deal with a much wider group of Middle Eastern nations.
The member states of the Gulf Co-operation Council - Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE - have asked Australia to incorporate the bilateral negotiations into a wider deal.

The area is a significant export market for Australia, particularly for motor vehicles, with exports to the six states in 2005 worth $2 billion.

Trade Minister Mark Vaile said the Government would consider the GCC’s request to widen the UAE negotiations, which started in March last year.

Already working on national free trade negotiations with China, Malaysia and the UAE, Australia is developing plans for a free trade framework with New Zealand and the Association of South-East Asian Nations. It is also working on a feasibility study for a free trade agreement with Japan.

The Australia-UAE deal was slated to be finished as soon as the middle of this year, but a spokesman for Mr Vaile said if widened, the negotiations would obviously become more complex as they involved more Gulf states.

It was expected that the team that had been working on the UAE deal would be involved in any new work associated with the GCC.

"We’ve already done a lot of work with the UAE and would hope this would assist us with the wider negotiations," he said.

"In terms of the six countries it’s obviously going to be more complicated now that Australia is negotiating with six countries because there will be a range of issues come into play."

Mr Vaile has asked officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to study the economic and trade implications of a wider deal with the GCC.