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Thu 18 Jan 2007 12:00 AM

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Free trade blues

After 20 years of talks, the EU looks set to agree a free trade agreement with the GCC.  So why does a US deal look doomed?

What is it the European Union can do and the US can’t? Sadly there is no humorous punch line tagged to the end of this sentence, merely the fact that a groundbreaking Free Trade Agreement (FTA) seems to be on the cards between the GCC and the EU and signed and sealed in the next few weeks but similar deals between the US and the UAE and Qatar respectively appear destined for almost certain and long-term failure.

So let’s get this straight, 27 collective nations can agree to set common rules that will increase trade and investment with six Arab countries while a deal between the US and two Arab countries seems to be doomed to fail at every turn? In a world where political ties seem to be fragmenting everyday, how can so many countries collectively agree to something and yet once the US steps into a deal with two Middle Eastern countries problems immediately begin to appear?

There are two major stumbling blocks that have lead to this stalemate, oil concessions and foreign trade.

Both are resolvable but mean further discussion and more time for both sides to agree to common ground.

The other issue lies in the division between each emirate in the UAE. Each one, for example, has a different policy on granting concessions for oil exploration and if a unified agreement can’t be finalised in the next few weeks the overall deal could be killed off for a long time to come. As could it if sources and processes of foreign investment aren’t clarified which are currently not good enough for the US. An agreement would be a massive step forwards and see 2007 become an even bigger year than I think it already will be.

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