16 December 2008
Qatar warns Gulf may suspend talks on EU trade pact
DOHA (AFP) - Qatar warned on Monday that the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council would suspend talks on a free trade deal with the European Union if an impasse in the 20-year-old negotiations continues.
"Some day in the near future the GCC states will decide to suspend the talks which have so far had no result," Qatar’s prime minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al-Thani told journalists.
He was speaking at a news conference with his Singaporean counterpart Lee Hsien Loong after the GCC, whose presidency Qatar holds until the end of December, signed a free trade deal with the Asian city state.
The GCC — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates — has been in talks with the now 27-member EU about a free trade agreement since 1988.
Sheikh Hamad said the accord should have been signed at the end of November during a visit to Qatar by Nicolas Sarkozy, the president of France which holds the rotating EU presidency.
He said the European Union "retracted at the last minute."
"The negotiations with Europe have gone on for too long, and our European partner must know that the talks cannot last indefinitely," Sheikh Hamad said.
Europe "is the GCC’s largest trading partner, and if it wishes to expand on that partnership it must reconsider" its position on the talks, he said.
In April EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner said the question of human rights was one of the points being negotiated in the free trade agreement with the GCC.
But in June GCC secretary general Abdulraham al-Attiyah told AFP it would not accept any political conditions.
"The GCC countries reject the imposition of conditions and political demands by the European side in order to sign an economic agreement," he said.
Despite its small size, Qatar is one of the world’s largest suppliers of liquefied natural gas, and Europe is a major LNG consumer. Qatar has the world’s third-largest gas reserves, after Russia and Iran.