Reuters | December 28, 2008
Row stalled Gulf-EU talks
Muscat: A disagreement over human rights and democracy was behind the suspension earlier this month of trade talks between the Gulf Cooperation Council and the European Union, an Omani official said yesterday.
"It is suspended because we reached a roadblock on political issues," Abdul Malek Al Hinai, undersecretary at Oman’s Ministry of National Economy, told Reuters in an interview.
"The European side is trying to impose political issues on human rights and democracy that overstep and do not consider local regulations."
Abdul Rahman Al Attiyah, the secretary-general of the GCC, said last week talks with the EU had been suspended, without giving reasons for the decision.
The president of the European Parliament said earlier this month GCC countries should pursue democratic reform without feeling they must follow models not in line with their tradition.
Aimed at boosting trade and investment between the two blocs, a Gulf-EU free trade pact would make it easier for Gulf states to export products, such as petrochemicals, to Europe, which imposes taxes on some imports from the region.
Gulf officials met a delegation from France, current president of the European Union, in Muscat last month and came to an agreement on the text of the clause, but the European Commission did not accept it, Hinai said.
"They want to include an article saying that, in case a member of the agreement violates principles of human rights and democracy, the other side can take necessary actions according to international law.
"We want to also include that domestic laws and regulations should not be weakened by this agreement because it is a matter of sovereignty of our nations. We all respect human rights but it should not be imposed on us by the view of others."
The pact between the EU and the GCC has been under discussion for nearly two decades. "We have concluded the agreement with the exception of that political point," Hinai said.
The Gulf, which signed a free trade agreement with Singapore this month, was discussing a possible slowdown in free trade talks with foreign partners, but this would not affect discussions with countries including Japan, South Korea, China, India and Pakistan, he added.