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UAE rejects GCC pact on free trade deals: Official

The Peninsula, Qatar

UAE rejects GCC pact on free trade deals: Official

21 June 2005

(Reuters) RIYADH/DUBAI: Gulf Arab efforts to defend a customs union suffered a setback after the United Arab Emirates refused to sign an accord barring bilateral trade deals except with the United States, Gulf sources said yesterday.

The accord was aimed at limiting damage to the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) unified tariff system from bilateral free trade deals, like the one signed last year between GCC member Bahrain and Washington.

Saudi Arabia had argued that bilateral deals violated a joint GCC tariff pact, but reluctantly dropped its objections to deals with the United States when it became clear that several of its neighbours aim to clinch such accords. But at a ministerial meeting in Riyadh earlier this month, the UAE voiced reservations about the accord barring bilateral trade deals beyond the United States, the Gulf sources said.

“There is an official letter sent by the UAE to the (GCC) secretariat expressing its reservations within its rights under the GCC charter,” said one Gulf source. “There are several (GCC) countries in advance stages of free trade negotiations with countries other than the United States. Qatar is close to a deal with Singapore, Oman with India and the UAE is in discussions with Australia,” he added.

The UAE has begun its own bilateral trade talks with Washington and is also in negotiations for an accord with Australia - Canberra’s first in the Middle East. “In the case of the United States, there may be strategic reasons (for bilateral deals),” another Gulf source said.