GCC-EU free trade likely by year-end, says French minister


Minister Anne-Marie Idrac was speaking to the press during a Dubai visit, which is part of a tour of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Oman.

Idrac disclosed outstanding technical differences and files on the negotiating table. These are related to the tax system, opening of markets and the service sector.

The issues have been discussed with the Saudi, UAE and Omani sides to overcome the obstacles, said Idrac, adding that negotiations between the EU and the GCC are still on.

"We hope to reach a strong trade agreement based on transparency and which serves the economies of European and Gulf countries alike."

The minister stressed the need to pave the way for and sign the agreement. She expressed appreciation of the invitation extended by EU President and by President Nicolas Sarkozy to the negotiating parties to speed up the signing of the free trade agreement, especially that the negotiations went into a dark tunnel for years.

Idrac said there is a solid base for French firms in the UAE and the region, adding that French companies have tangible presence in several sector such as energy, transport, water projects and tourism. She expressed the desire to see more French firms in the region, especially small and medium-size ones.

The French minister described as solid trade and economic ties between GCC states and France as the trade exchange has amounted to five billion euros, including €1 billion (Dh4.6bn) worth of Gulf exports to France. Most French exports are in energy and water sectors.

Total French investments in Gulf countries totalled €1.5bn. The minister hoped a redoubling of investments in the future.

Idrac said President Sarkozy called for building a safer new financial global system.

European states met and discussed the crisis’s repercussions. They rushed to draw up short and long-term plans to protect their banking and financial systems from the consequences of the crisis.

On the reflections of the crisis on French economy, she said: "Ongoing global financial crisis which started from United States financial markets was reflected on the economies of all world states. Regarding France, our financial and banking system is strong. We took all necessary measures to protect our banking systems and guarantee the availability of liquidity in French banks. The French Government also took decisions related to the guarantee of credit."

About whether the European states’ injection of liquidity into their banks will avoid the nationalisation of banks, Idrac said: "There are technical measures taken by each state to combat the consequences of current crisis. Some states nationalised their banks, but this is not the case in France.

"France’s approach in addressing the crisis depends on the provision of required liquidity, achievement of safe rates of balance between capital and debts and restoring of confidence in banking," Idrac said.

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