x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Crisis makes EU free trade deal crucial, says Lubna

The impact of the global financial crisis makes it key to finalise the GCC-EU free trade deal, says the Minister of Foreign Trade.

ABU DHABI // The global financial crisis and its impact on international commerce makes it more important than ever to finalise the GCC-EU free trade agreement, Sheikha Lubna al Qasimi, the Minister of Foreign Trade, said yesterday. There are still "obstacles" that need to be resolved before a deal can be forged but co-operation with "steady economies" such as the UAE's is necessary for the world to overcome the current economic situation, she said.

Sheikha Lubna spoke at a lunch organised by the Abu Dhabi British Business Group and attended by ambassadors and business council members from the US, Switzerland, Canada, Australia and the UK. The important role that the UAE can play globally "motivates us to further engage in productive regional and international dialogue", she said. "We are, for example, especially supportive of ongoing talks between the Gulf Co-operation Council and the European Union for the forging of a much awaited and long-overdue Free Trade Agreement between our two economic blocs."

There have been 15 years of free trade talks between the 27-nation European Union and the six-nation GCC, which includes the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman. Europe is the GCC's biggest trading partner and the GCC zone is the fifth-largest market for EU products. "This is a very important, high value free trade agreement because of the long standing relationship between the European countries and the GCC," Sheikha Lubna said, adding that she hoped that the deal will be finalised after a "few issues" are overcome.

In May, Peter Mandelson, who then was EU trade commissioner, said the two parties could come to a deal by the end of the year. In an attempt to seal an agreement, the EU has agreed to scrap import tariffs on aluminium and petrochemicals from the region and in return is asking for the elimination of limits on foreigners owning majority stakes in Gulf companies. Sheikha Lubna praised Mr Mandleson's efforts to bring the "sticking points" of negotiations to the highest levels of government during frequent trips to the region and said that France, current holder of the EU presidency, was responsible for a "large push" and "a lot of support" in driving the current negotiations.

After posting record growth in 2007, international seaborne trade is now experiencing the effects of the global economic crisis with supply and demand weakening, according to a report issued by the UN Conference on Trade and Development. Sheikha Lubna called on the UAE's partners to sustain trading and commercial activities in order to "invigorate the global markets". She said that international trade plays a crucial role in the economic viability of developing countries that depend on commodities.

Sheikha Lubna stressed the importance of working together to find a shared solution for the current crisis. "In the global financial crisis at the moment no one is immune," she said. "What's really critical at the moment I think is that we are all working in a concerted effort, together as a global world, trying to foresee what can be done." @Email:lmorris@thenational.ae