Gulf Cooperation Council and European Free Trade Association sign free trade agreement
The GCC Secretary-General Abdul Rahman Al-Attiyah and Sheikh Ghazi Bin Said Al-Bahar Al-Rawas, Sultanate of Oman, which heads the Council of Ministers of the GCC, signed a free trade agreement with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) on June 22, 2009, in the city of Hammer, Norway. The EFTA comprises Switzerland, Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein. The agreement was signed on the sidelines of the Ministerial Conference of the "EFTA" countries held on the same day.
Commenting on the development, Juma Mohammed Ahmed Al-Kait, Executive Director for Foreign Trade Affairs at the UAE Ministry of Foreign Trade, who headed the trade services negotiations team for the Gulf countries, said that this landmark agreement, which aims to bring in trade liberalization and promote investment opportunities and partnership between the two sides, was signed after a period of extensive negotiations which started in February 2006 and went on till April 2008. He said that the agreement covers areas such as commercial trade, exchange of services, intellectual property protection, governmental purchases, and methodology for arbitrating conflicts. In addition, the agreement seeks economic partnership through investments and the reduction of customs duties on most goods exchanged by both sides, especially agricultural goods.
With regard to the trade in services, the agreement will improve the access to markets and open up sectors that are of interest to both sides. The agreement will also provide an opportunity for companies from both regions to participate in government tenders within a framework of transparency in procedures and in accordance with specific regulations.
It should be noted that the UAE is the sixth major partner of the "EFTA" in terms of the volume of bilateral trade, which reached USD 8.7 billion in 2008. It is expected that this agreement will further increase the volume of bilateral trade and investment between the two sides, as the rapid economic growth rates of the Gulf countries will enhance investment opportunities for companies in the two regions.