GCC restrictions hinder free trade deal, says EU


“The outstanding issues relate to investment conditions in the Gulf and our access to the services market in the Gulf, which remain of concern to us,” Peter Mandelson said after a round of a negotiations with United Arab Emirates officials.


The UAE is one of six countries comprising the Gulf Cooperation Council – a loose political and economic alliance which also includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.


“It is picking up pace and coming full circle to the end,” UAE Minister of Economy Sheikha Lubna al-Qassimi, told reporters.


Talks between the bloc and the EU began in 1990 but were slowed by the GCC agreeing only in 1999 to move towards forming a customs union and a new EU negotiating strategy adopted in 2001 to include the services sector in the talks.


Mandelson declined to give details about the EU concerns but said: “We are approaching the final stage of negotiations and hope it will end in success this year.”


“We have further differences to narrow and technical level discussions will take place in Brussels next week,” he said.


The EU was becoming flexible in some issues, Qassimi said without giving further details.


EU officials have previously said unresolved issues include government procurement regulations and rules of origin as well as access for services companies.


In earlier stages of the talks, GCC officials have said they were not yet prepared to open up certain sectors – especially the real estate sector – or to remove some barriers over ownership because the laws differed from one Gulf Arab country to another.


The EU is the GCC’s top trade partner, while the Gulf group ranks number six for the 27-nation EU.


Mandelson, who will travel to Saudi Arabia and Qatar for more trade talks, encouraged Gulf countries to continue to wean themselves off their reliance on energy exports, which account for about 70 percent of total exports.


“Diversification is important and development of new economic sectors is also important,” Mandelson said. We need to see the generation of millions of new jobs to keep pace with the population growth and demand for jobs.”


Some Gulf countries are separately negotiating free trade agreements with the United States, which outlined plans in 2003 to create a Middle East free-trade zone stretching from Morocco to Iran by 2013.

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