x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

GCC suspends EU free-trade talks

The Gulf Cooperation Council suspends talks with the European Union over a free-trade agreement, says the bloc's secretary-general.

MUSCAT // The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which includes the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, has suspended talks with the European Union (EU) over a free-trade agreement, the bloc's secretary-general said today. A Saudi newspaper last week quoted Qatar's prime minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassem al Thani as saying the EU was seeking to include political clauses in the accord, without elaborating. He called on the GCC to suspend the talks.

Aimed at boosting trade and investment between the two blocs, the agreement would make it easier for Gulf Arab states to export products, such as petrochemicals, to Europe, which currently imposes taxes on some imports from the region. "We have suspended talks with the EU," the GCC's Abdul-Rahman al Attiyah said in Muscat, where he is taking part in meetings to prepare for a Gulf Arab leaders summit next week.

"We will have no objection to resuming talks with them once they are ready to look at all angles of negotiation." There was no immediate response from the EU. The GCC ? a political and economic alliance, which also includes Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain ? has been at odds with the EU in recent weeks over the deal, which has been under discussion for nearly two decades.

At a meeting of Gulf finance ministers last month, Mr al Attiyah said the Gulf would discuss a possible slowdown in free trade talks with foreign partners, pending further studies. The region signed an FTA with Singapore this month. Talks between the group and the EU began in 1990 but were slowed by the GCC agreeing only in 1999 to move towards forming a customs union and a new EU negotiating strategy adopted in 2001 to include the services sector in the talks.

* Reuters