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Sun 25 May 2008 04:47 PM

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GCC-EU trade deal at 'critical stage'

Gulf states should be 'more frank' with EU on whether desire is there to seal FTA, Kuwaiti minister says.

Free trade negotiations between the GCC and EU have reached a "critical stage", Kuwait's foreign minister said on Sunday prior to the latest round of trade talks between the two blocs in Brussels on Monday.

Mohammad Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah said he believed Gulf states should be "more frank" with their European "friends" on whether there is a real political desire to create the free trade zone, according to the official Kuna news agency.

The GCC and EU have been in negotiations over a free trade agreement (FTA) for years, but have been unable to finalise a deal due to outstanding issues such as market access, government procurement rules and intellectual property rights.

Qatar’s deputy prime minister said in January negotiations could drag on for months, blaming "endless conditions" by the EU which were impossible to meet.

The GCC already has an FTA with several non-EU European countries. The bloc last month signed a trade agreement with the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which includes Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland.