New Zealand optimistic on finalising stalled GCC trade deal

Foreign minister in the Gulf to promote trade and bolster support

New Zealand is optimistic it will complete its stalled free trade deal with the Gulf states this year as part of efforts to deepen economic ties with the region, Minister of Foreign Affairs Murray McCully said on Monday.

Trade talks with the six-member GCC wrapped up in 2009 but the deal was never ratified by the parties involved. It is not clear why it has taken this long since the negotiations concluded.

New Zealand’s foreign minister is in the Gulf this week meeting GCC political leaders to promote trade and bolster support to push through the deal.

Annual two-way trade between New Zealand and the GCC is worth more than NZ$3.2 billion ($2.24 billion), according to New Zealand’s Foreign Ministry. New Zealand's main exports to the region include dairy, sheep meat and wood.

“We see the conclusion of a free trade agreement with the Gulf states as one of our highest trade policy priorities,” McCully told Reuters at an Abu Dhabi hotel.

He said he was very optimistic the deal would be finalised this year.

New Zealand believes a GCC trade agreement would lift exports beyond the region, with McCully calling the Gulf "the gateway for the whole of the Middle East and Africa".

New Zealand is perceived by Arabs to have gained political capital in the region after it jointly put forward in December a UN Security Council resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlement activity on land the Palestinians want for a state.

All Arab countries support an independent Palestinian state and Qatar’s foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman, al-Thani, thanked McCully in their meeting on Sunday for New Zealand's role in passing the resolution, the state-run Qatar News agency said.

Israel recalled its ambassador to Wellington after the resolution passed and New Zealand is "still not clear on how that's going to play out", McCully said.

"I’ve made it clear from the beginning that we greatly value the friendship we have with Israel and hope that we will be able to get back into the sort of friendly relationship that we’ve enjoyed in the past," he said.

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