Korea Times | 14 May 2006
S. Korea Considers FTA With Gulf Countries: Roh
By Ryu Jin
Korea Times Correspondent
ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates — President Roh Moo-hyun said Saturday that the government will consider signing a free trade agreement (FTA) with the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC).
Established in 1981, the GCC, comprised of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE), plans to create a common market next year with the aim of introducing a unified currency.
``An FTA between South Korea and the GCC, including the UAE, could be considered,’’ Roh said in an interview with the UAE’s state-run news agency WAM, predicting that trade, investment and economic cooperation would increase further between the two sides.
In a summit, President Roh Moo-hyun and UAE President H. H. Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan agreed to form a future-oriented partnership expanding cooperation in the fields of construction, information-technology (IT) as well as energy and resources.
The two leaders decided to boost bilateral ties substantially, presidential spokesman Jung Tae-ho said in a press briefing.
On the last leg of his three-nation trip that also took him to Mongolia and Azerbaijan, Roh arrived in Abu Dhabi Friday. South Korea aims to secure cooperation for ``energy security’’ with the UAE, the second largest petroleum exporter to South Korea after Saudi Arabia.
Since the establishment of diplomatic relations between South Korea and the UAE in 1980, Roh is the first Korean head of state to visit the Gulf country. Bilateral trade reached $12.7 billion last year.
A federation of seven emirates seated on the southeastern part of the Arabian Peninsula, the UAE is the world’s fifth largest petroleum-producing country with reserves of 97.8 billion barrels of oil and 6.06 trillion cubic meters of gas.
Seoul is also eyeing development plans, such as large-scale construction projects, with the UAE, as the Middle East country prepares for a ``post-oil-money’’ era based on the enormous amount of money it has garnered from petroleum-related businesses in past decades.
The UAE is fostering the construction of a palm tree-shaped artificial island worth $30 billion in Dubai and some South Korean firms have been taking part in bids for related development projects worth some $8 billion.
Officials from Seoul said South Korea would also discuss the so-called ``hub-to-hub’’ cooperation with the UAE as both countries are aiming to be hubs in Northeast Asia and in the Gulf, respectively, and cooperation in the defense industry.
On Sunday, Roh visited Dubai, the tourism and financial center of the UAE, where he met with South Korean residents there, before returning home this morning.