9 July 2008
SKorea, Gulf states agree to forge free trade deal next year
SEOUL (AFP) - South Korea and six Gulf states agreed Wednesday to forge a free trade deal by the end of next year, a chief negotiator from the Seoul side said.
"At today’s opening session, the chief delegates from both sides agreed in principle to conclude negotiation by the end of next year," Deputy Trade Minister Lee Hye-Min told reporters.
He was speaking at the start of a two-day meeting with the Gulf Cooperation Council to forge a free trade agreement.
The GCC — established in 1981 by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and Kuwait — holds around 40 percent of the world’s oil reserves.
"We aim to forge the deal early as there are not many sensitive issues between the two sides," Lee said.
His office said in a statement that the proposed deal would help South Korea secure a stable supply of energy.
South Korea bought 53.5 billion dollars worth of energy resources from the six nations last year, accounting for 72 percent of its total energy imports.
Last year two-way trade reached 66.1 billion dollars.
The GCC nations are also a key market for South Korean builders who received construction orders totalling 14.4 billion dollars last year.
South Korea has already forged free trade pacts with Chile, Singapore and the European Free Trade Association comprising Switzerland, Norway, Ireland and Liechtenstein.
It has a partial pact with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, and a trade agreement signed by Seoul and Washington last year awaits approval by legislatures in both countries.
Talks are also under way with the European Union, Canada and Mexico.