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Sat 2 May 2009 10:59 AM

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Talks see headway on GCC-EU free trade agreement

European Union official says free trade deal could be signed by end of the year.

The free trade deal between the GCC and the European Union could be signed off by the end of this year, despite on-going disagreements over two key issues, a senior EU official has said.

On an official visit to Qatar, Benita Ferrero-Waldner, European Commissioner for External Relations and European Neighbourhood Policy said the free trade agreement (FTA), which has been in discussion since 1990, may possibly go ahead this year.

Last week’s talks between the GCC and the EU had seen some headway made on the two issues of human rights and export duties, to which “solutions” were being sought, Ferrero-Waldner said in an exclusive interview with Qatar daily The Peninsula.

It was important to find wording that was acceptable to the 27 EU countries and also for the six GCC states, she said.

“It’s really about finding solutions on the twin issues,” Ferrero-Waldner stressed.

The EU was also looking to forge stronger partnerships with the GCC states in the field of energy, she revealed.

“More strategic cooperation is indeed possible through a full energy partnership. Indeed in our ministerial meeting in Muscat we agreed to further encourage energy cooperation between the two blocks.”

Ferrero-Waldner was in Doha after attending the 19th EU-GCC Joint Council and Ministerial meeting in Muscat.

The meeting included discussions on climate change, energy security and counter terrorism, non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, nuclear safety and security as well as research and higher education. “This year we celebrate the 20th anniversary of the EU-GCC relations which shows that these relations have broadened from technical and commercial matters into more political issues of common concern,” she said.

The EU is also keen to support the establishment of an EU-GCC clean energy network of relevant stakeholders working particularly on solar and wind energy, and also working on new technologies for carbon capture.

The GCC region is the EU’s sixth largest export market, while the EU is the Gulf’s biggest trading partner.