Al-Zayani: GCC hopes free trade pact with EU would see light soon

KUWAIT, Gulf Cooperation Council Abdullatif Al-Zayani has stated that the GCC countries were eager to finalize free trade agreement with the EU soon to boost trade exchange.

“In 1990, negotiations for a free trade agreement was launched and all articles, except for only one related to the export tariffs, were approved, we hope a constructive formula would be agreed soon to serve our mutual interests,” Al-Zayani told the audience at the Third EU-GCC Business Forum which kicked off at the Kuwait Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Tuesday.

He described the European Union one of the main trade partners to the GCC member states.

“The trade exchange between both sides have jumped from USD 37 billion in 2001 to USD 172 billion in 2017,” he unveiled.

Al-Zayani stated that the GCC countries were trying to create safe, stable and sustainable environments for achieving aspired prosperity through partnering with global economic blocs, unifying legislations, encouraging private sector contributions to development projects, upgrading procedures and administrative systems to streamline entrepreneurship, and promote creativity and innovation.

The GCC and its six-member states had emerged as the most stable, prosperous, attractive countries for foreign investments in the region thanks to the growth of oil revenues and the adoption of ambitious national strategies and vision to diversify and boost national economies, he explained.

He added that the GCC countries had witnessed in the past few years a significant growth in the flow of foreign direct investments as a result of the government reforms, initiatives and economic measures which shown an increasing interest of investors in the Gulf region.

He boasted that the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has become an important economic bloc.

The GCC’s gross domestic product has surpassed USD 1.5 trillion, the value of imports and exports exceeded USD one trillion annually and local investments rose to USD 430 billion in 2017. Moreover, the intra-GCC trade also jumped to USD 133 billion in 2017, he said.

“Gulf countries are looking forward to raising the level of cooperation and strengthening relations with the European Union and this forum is a clear evidence of the depth of Gulf-European relations,” he concluded.

For his part, Director General of the Kuwait Direct Investment Promotion Authority Sheikh Dr. Meshaal Al-Sabah said the two-day forum provides an ideal platform for exchanging information and exploring promising investment opportunities.

Kuwait’s hosting of the third session of the forum, embodies its eagerness to showcase the new legal, executive and procedural reforms introduced by GCC states to improve investment environment, he said.

He hailed the forum also a platform for exploring nascent projects in the EU and GCC markets and providing new investment prospects to their companies for cooperation in a variety of domains at the forefront of which infrastructure, logistical services, sustainable energy and smart cities.

Meanwhile, Chairman of the Kuwait Chamber of Commerce and Industry Ali Al-Ghanim highlighted a number of factors which would influence EU-GCC relations and cooperation in the future.

He cited oil as the main factor as it is the prime component of bilateral trade and investment.

The projections about a future decline in the importance of the oil, coincide with affirmed indications about the weight of global economy was moving from the West to the East which would have deep impacts on the region and the world, he said.

He argued that the second was the start of the fourth industrial revolution which would bring intrinsic transformations that create a virtual digitalized world and a new economy in which feasibility and creativity other than the cost and price would be decisive in market competitiveness.

Thus if the EU hesitated in helping the GCC enter this era, the development gap would be a difficult obstacle hindering their future cooperation, he suggested.

Third factor is the EU stances towards Arab causes, especially the Palestinian one. He regretted that that the EU stances of the repercussions of the Arab Spring in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen, “do not augur well in this regard”.

Al-Ghanim said that the four factor was the issues of security and refugees as well as the political and economic changes in the EU, such as Britain withdrawal of the European bloc.

It was in the interest of the European Union to know in depth the dimensions of the changes and risks that the region was going through and in the interest of the parties to employ security and immigration issues to emphasize the importance of their economic and development cooperation, he asserted.

He recalled that the Mediterranean Sea is no longer a European-Arab lake. Now on its coasts emerged news cities, routes, bases and forces that protect interests of other countries that are highly competitive.

The forum brings together an array of high-level speakers and experts from the Gulf and the EU.

In recognition of the importance of knowledge, creativity and innovation, which are vital elements of economic development in a modern world of rapidly expanding technology, the participating experts tackle pressing subjects such as developing and supporting innovation in business and investment, seizing opportunities in the healthcare sector, digitalization and doing business in the GCC.

EU-GCC Business Forum offers significant opportunities for cross-cutting networking and identification of opportunities to engage in the ongoing diversification strategies and the corresponding projects underpinning them, in particular in key economic sectors where representatives from the GCC and EU will present ongoing initiatives and planned investments.

It offers an excellent opportunity for partners from the GCC region and the EU to meet and explore new trade and investment partnerships between businesses in two of the world’s major economic regions.

Source: Kuwait News Agency