GCC, EU Set to Meet in Brussels on Free-Trade Agreement
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and the European Union (EU) are to meet in Brussels on May 22 for talks aimed at finalizing a long delayed free-trade agreement between the two blocs, Saudi newspapers said Wednesday.
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, in his role as acting president of the six-nation GCC, will head the Gulf delegation, said the daily Okaz.
It said the GCC had sent a memorandum to the EU in which it warned that "the conclusion of a free-trade agreement on a fair basis is a condition for continuing good relations in cooperation."
The GCC criticized the high taxes levied by the EU on refined oil products from GCC member countries, which has led to a lowering in demand, according to the paper.
The Gulf Arab monarchies called for "a halt to the commercial imbalance between the two blocs", saying that in 1998 the difference was 17 billion dollars in favor of the EU.
The 15-state EU has insisted that the GCC must have its own customs union before it signs a free-trade agreement with the Gulf states, in a campaign that has already lasted more than a decade.
The GCC states, which are currently the fifth largest export market for the EU, are hit by EU taxes on aluminum exports and petrochemicals of at least six percent.
At the last GCC summit in November 1999, the body decided to put a customs union in place at the beginning of March 2005.
The six GCC members -- Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- must align their customs duties at the agreed levels by then.
The GCC has been trying since 1983 to seal a customs union as a vital step toward a Gulf common market worth more than 80 billion dollars in imports -- RIYADH (AFP)
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