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Australia seeks GCC free trade agreement

Khaleej Times, UAE

Australia seeks GCC free trade agreement

By Abdul Basit

14 April 2014

Australia is keen to resume its negotiations with Gulf countries on a free trade agreement, or FTA, in addition to foreign investment in a number of sectors, Trade and Investment Minister Andrew Robb said in Dubai on Sunday.

Australia also seeks Gulf sovereign wealth funds investment into Australia’s infrastructure development to fill a A$700 billion funding gap.

Robb is attending a series of events from April 13 to 17 to promote bilateral trade, investment and cultural ties that exist between Australia and the Mena region.

Known as Australia Unlimited Mena 2014, the programme includes promotional activities to Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Riyadh, Muscat, Kuwait and Rabat.

Speaking at the event, the minister indicated Australia’s goal to bolster investment in the Middle East in key trade areas such as agriculture, infrastructure, energy, education and tourism.

Robb said that there are some serious opportunities for major-league projects in Australia over the next decade.

“It’s one of the major priorities for the new government. We have got a A$700 billion infrastructure deficit,” he told reporters.

Highlighting potential investment areas, he said it could include urban rail, roads and tunnels across the country’s major cities as well as intensive agribusiness projects.

Talking on aviation policy of the government, the minister said: “As a government we have said we want to open the opportunities for foreign investors. I think Qantas would very much welcome other foreign investors and that would give them a much more level playing field with Virgin Australia.”

He said that the increased number of flights to the region, currently running at about 140 every week, is also creating increased scope for air cargo.

Trade between Australia and the GCC was A$12.2 billion in 2013, which was 20 per cent higher over 2012, while trade between the UAE and Australia jumped 25 per cent to A$6.4 billion in 2013 compared to 2012. The six-nation GCC initiated a freeze on all FTAs in 2009.

“When a hold was put on all negotiations… not just with ourselves but everyone else in 2009 by the GCC, at that stage the negotiations with Australia were very well advanced,” according to the minister.

“I have raised this already with His Excellency [UAE Minister of Economy Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansouri] I will raise it again all the way around my trip. It’s very important,” he explained.

Robb said the Gulf was fourth in his priorities for trade relationships with Australia after its big three trading partners China, Japan and South Korea.

“There’s an opportunity if we completed the free trade agreement quickly — and it is well advanced — I think we could wrap it up quickly. I think there could be some major projects which begin sooner rather than later,” he added.

Robb emphasised that Australia has a lot to offer in terms of goods, services, education, food and tourism to the GCC.