Pushing an EU-Gulf trade deal

UAE aims to end almost two decades of negotiations with European Union over free trade agreement.

The United Arab Emirates plans to push for the signing of a free trade agreement between the European Union and Gulf states when it assumes the presidency of the Gulf Cooperation Council in December, the country’s foreign ministry announced on Wednesday.
The UAE’s foreign ministry announced Wednesday that the small Gulf state will make the completion of over two decades of negotiations between the EU and Gulf states a key objective when it takes over leadership of the Gulf Cooperation Council later this year.
The presidency of the Gulf Cooperation Council rotates each year between its six member states: Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The UAE will take over from Kuwait in December.
“There will be a new meeting in mid-June 2010 where some problems could be solved,” a European official close to the negotiations told The Media Line on the condition of anonymity. “We will have more technical meetings until then but its still to early to say if things can get wrapped up.”
According to statistics from the EU, $86 billion in goods was exported from the EU to Gulf states last year, with $40 billion exported from the Gulf states to Europe.
   
Talks between the European Union and the Gulf Cooperation Council first started back in 1990 following the signing of an EU-GCC cooperation agreement, but have broken down and been suspended on several occasions.
During the latest round of talks in April 2009, points of contention included EU concerns over human rights issues in the Gulf states and the level of tax to be imposed on goods exported from Gulf states to Europe.
David Butter, Regional Director for the Middle East & North Africa with the Economist Intelligence Unit, argued the global economic recession has influenced the importance of a free trade agreement for EU and Gulf economies. 
“It’s away of moving goods without tariffs and restrictions and quotas,” Butter told The Media Line. “These are important relationships maybe now less than in the past as the European Union has suffered a serious recession. Nevertheless its an important part of the GCC [Gulf Cooperation Council] strategy.”
While on first glance the two regions may not have much in common, there are several points of resemblance between the EU, made up of 27 member states, and the Gulf Cooperation Council.
Both were founded as economic cooperation organizations which later evolved into regional bodies with a rotating presidency, with six months in the EU and one year in the Gulf.
     
Many of the integrations projects taking place in the Gulf, such as acommon central bank and currency, have already taken place in the EU,with the establishment of the European Central Bank and theintroduction of the euro.
While three members (United Kingdom,Denmark and Sweden) of the European Union have opted to keep theirnational currency instead of the euro, they still take part in themeetings of the European Central Bank. In the Gulf, however, both Omanand the United Arab Emirates have opted to stay out of the process ofsetting up a common central bank.
The growing threat fromSomali pirates to shipping along the Gulf coasts has proven to be aspringboard for more coordinated military cooperation within bothorganizations, as both have or will send naval detachments to try andprotest the shipping lanes.