x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Free trade between GCC states needs to be easier

UAE companies face difficulties establishing businesses in other GCC states despite the creation of a regional common market intended to streamline the process.

UAE companies face difficulties establishing businesses in other GCC states despite the creation of a regional common market intended to streamline the process, say officials.

Common market laws designed to make it easier for GCC firms to open branches in other states needed to be implemented more quickly in the region, Ministry of Finance officials said yesterday.

"We have the will and determination in the UAE to open the common market and we would like to see [that] in other countries," said Khalid al Bustani, the executive director of the international financial sector of the Ministry of Finance at a seminar in Dubai on the common market yesterday. "Some businesses see restrictions on them doing business or registering companies even though GCC laws allow it," he said.

Set up in 2008, the GCC common market is intended to help stimulate the development of the region through closer ties on a range of economic, financial and social issues.

So far, it has enabled GCC nationals to work, buy houses, trade shares, attend school and receive medical treatment in all six states.

Nonetheless, problems have beset other important aspects of the market.

Border disputes have hampered the free flow of goods, raising costs for exporters in the private sector.

Now, the UAE wants greater progress in enabling GCC companies to conduct business and register companies in other states.

Younis al Khouri, the director general of the Ministry of Finance, said the issue was not a "show stopper" and hoped it could be resolved next month when GCC leaders meet in Abu Dhabi for the GCC summit.

Some states may need to speed up the approval of GCC laws at a national level, said Abdel Aluwaisheg, the director general, international economic relations, at the Co-operation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf.

He said there was some worry over the delay before legislation agreed by heads of states regionally became law at the level of individual states.

"It's a legitimate concern," he said. "Theoretically, it shouldn't be longer be than one year but sometimes it takes longer than one year for some states to pass enabling legislation that would make GCC law applicable in their country."

About eight laws agreed at the GCC level have still not been passed in all states, he said.

In addition, some laws that had been approved by national governments were not being recognised properly because of a lack of communication within governments, he said.

Closer co-ordination is an important focus of the GCC as policymakers said it would give the region a stronger position internationally as well as help to make the region more attractive to foreign investors.

The region has an estimated combined market size of US$1 trillion (Dh3.67tn) and average per-capita GDP of $45,000, giving it significant clout as an economic bloc.

tarnold@thenational.ae