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UAE supports China's Gulf FTA bid
By Dai Yan (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-05-19 08:39

Trade ties between China and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) are strengthening and the latter has welcomed China's move to negotiate a free trade agreement (FTA) with Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) countries, according to Sheikh Fahim bin Sultan Al Qasimi, the UAE's finance and commerce minister.

He said the UAE supports the FTA between China and the GCC bloc, which comprises the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

He said the UAE is willing to help speed up FTA negotiations and a meeting is expected to be held in China soon to discuss the issue.

Reports also said finance ministers from the six GCC countries are preparing to visit China in late May to negotiate the free trade accord.

Experts believe the negotiation process may be long-winded, given the fact that similar negotiations with the European Union have been continuing for more than 12 years without an agreement being reached.

But once the FTA is inked, it will create a solid platform for business people from China and the GCC bloc.

Official statistics show that China's share of the Gulf market is less than US$25 billion, or about 5 per cent of the region's trade volume.

The GCC holds 45 per cent of the world's oil reserves and supplies 20 per cent of the global crude.

Besides the FTA, Qasimi said Chinese investment in the UAE would be welcomed and be able to take advantage of a tariff reduction among Arab countries.

Beginning next year, there will be zero tariffs in the Greater Arab Free Trade Area, which currently covers 17 countries in the region.

Qasimi said he believed that Chinese investment would have advantages in the information technology, water treatment, food processing, petrochemical and agricultural industries.

The UAE was also willing to co-operate with Chinese companies to tap the big reconstruction market in Iraq.

Trade between China and the UAE surged to US$5.8 billion in 2003 from about US$2.4 billion in 1998, with China's exports to the UAE jumping to about US$5 billion.

"There has been rapid growth in two-way trade between the two countries," he said.

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