The Gulf Arab states, including Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, will sign a free trade agreement with the European Union in Q1 2007, Bahrain's deputy finance minister said.
An agreement between the two trading blocs is "imminent" Sheikh Ebrahim bin Khalifa al Khalifa told reporters in Dubai today. The office of EU TradeCommissioner Peter Mandelson has said that he may visit the Middle East next month in an attempt to conclude free-trade talks with the six Gulf states, that also includes Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, which have been under way for 15 years.
A free-trade accord would reduce barriers and fuel trade between the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council, which pumps about a fifth of the world's crude oil, and the 25-nation EU. Negotiations cover market access on goods and services, common rules and disciplines on intellectual property rights, competition, dispute settlement or rules of origin. The agreement will also cover political issues such as human rights, illegal immigration and efforts to fight terrorism. (Bloomberg)