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Thu 31 May 2007 12:04 PM

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GCC-EU free trade deal imminent

Agreement should be reached before Germany’s EU presidency ends.

A free trade agreement between the GCC and European Union (EU) should be finalised next month, according to a senior European official.

Austrian foreign minister Ursula Plassnik said the EU was keen to reach an agreement before the end of Germany’s presidency of the EU, which finishes at the end of next month.

In a statement published yesterday by the Al Riyadh newspaper, Plassnik said the two sides are “determined to finish all remaining points of the agreement as quickly as possible”.

"I think Germany will work intensively in this matter and I think it is possible that the agreement would be signed. We have to wait [until] the next meeting in June, which will be held in Brussels,” she said.

“We all hope that all technical outstanding issues pertain[ing] to the agreement will be solved and that the agreement will be signed before the end of Germany's presidency of the EU,” she added.

The GCC and the EU signed a framework economic co-operation agreement in 1988 but have been unable to agree a free trade deal, due to outstanding issues such as market access, government procurement rules and intellectual property rights.

The GCC and EU met at the beginning of May at the 17th Joint GCC-EU Ministerial Meeting in Jeddah, where officials hinted that the free trade agreement would be finalised by the time they next met in June.

At the time German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the EU wanted to ensure the same benefits would be provided to European countries as those provided to the US and countries in Asia.

“That is something which still needs discussion though I think it is perfectly open to resolution,” he said.

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