GCC-EU ministerial talks to iron out differences


According to Ambassador Bernard Savage, head of the delegation of the European Commission in Saudi Arabia, officials from the EU and GCC have both agreed that the free trade negotiations were taking too long.

“There have been tremendous shifts in the trade environment since we started talking about it,” he told Arab News, adding that several changes have occurred such as GCC countries joining the World Trade Organization. “The old stage of agreement to reduce tariffs is no longer how trade deals are done,” he added.

Another factor contributing to the delay is the fact that it would be an agreement covering 33 countries, which include 6 Gulf countries and 27 European countries, he said.

“It is not a photo opportunity,” he said. “The primary purpose is to sign an economic deal with substance which is favorable to both the interest of the GCC and the European Union and that means we have to cover large areas and discuss in depth controversial subjects.”

Savage also said the deal would be the first-of-its-kind since it would be the first region-to-region deal with the European Union. He said that the EU was obliged to sign bilateral agreements in all sectors with other countries after signing the WTO agreement. He said among the “tricky” areas that still have to be dealt with in negotiations with GCC officials are the areas where EU countries would be able to directly invest in GCC countries, mainly in the service sector.

“Roughly 80 percent of the European productive economy is in the service sector,” he said, adding that it included services in the banking sector, energy services, financial services, wireless services, distribution, and more.

“We do not see the future of our trading relationship with Gulf countries in selling yogurt,” he said.

He said that negotiations with GCC officials would be about access to domestic economies.

Asked how GCC and EU businessmen would benefit from a free trade agreement, he said that benefits would include the right of establishment, the protection of investment, the ability to purchase existing companies or to set up new ones in specific sectors on both sides.

“There is one thing to establish yourself and another in terms of the right to national treatment,” he said.

The ambassador ruled out that future agreements with GCC countries would mean that EU citizens would be able travel to Gulf countries with only one visa (similar to the European Shengen visa).

Savage also said that the ministerial meeting would mainly cover areas of mutual concern. “It’s coming at a time when Saudi Arabia is taking a leadership role,” he said, giving the examples of the Kingdom’s role in solving the Darfur issue, the Lebanese crises, as well as the historical Makkah agreement and discussions with Iranian officials.

Commenting on EU involvement in the region, Savage said that “the EU is seeking a partnership role and is not here with agendas.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *