The National | 18 February 2019
EU says it is open to free trade deal with GCC
The European Union is open to a free trade deal with the GCC, but talks would need to begin “sooner rather than later", a senior EU official said.
Phil Hogan, the EU’s agriculture commissioner, met with federal ministers in the UAE as the EU completes trade deals around the world.
With the UK set to leave the EU as Brexit comes to fruition on March 29, a deal has yet to be agreed. As both the UK and the EU grapple with the possibility of Britain leaving next month without a withdrawal agreement in place, the EU and UAE have been strengthening political ties.
“We are in the hands of the UAE. If they want to have high-quality food and drink products, we have plenty of them in the EU to offer,” said Mr Hogan, speaking at the Gulfood fair on Monday in Dubai.
“This is the value of being at the Gulfood fair where you can see member states and the EU working together to show to UAE consumers that we … are open for business.”
Trade ties between the EU and UAE are already strong, but a free trade agreement would simplify procedures and reduce the cost of doing business.
The UAE is the EU’s 13th biggest export market for agricultural food products and the country is a key entry point to other markets in the Gulf and the Middle East and North Africa.
In 2017, bilateral trade between the EU and UAE stood at €52 billion (Dh216b), and €3b-worth of agricultural products were exported from the EU to the Emirates.
The EU has already completed free trade deals with Japan, Canada, Singapore and Mexico in the run up to Brexit, and Mr Hogan’s visit follows discussions with New Zealand and Australia.
The long-delayed free trade agreement between the GCC and the EU faltered in 2010 over issues such as export tariffs that the Gulf states wanted to retain the right to impose.
However, EU officials said at the time that this would hurt small European manufacturers.
The EU is now awaiting a decision from the GCC on whether to reopen trade talks and on what the conditions are.
Mr Hogan has so far met with Sultan Al Mansoori, the Minister of Economy, Mariam Al Mehairi, Minister for Food Security and Thani Al Zeyoudi, Minister for Climate Change and Environment during his four-night visit.
The topics under discussion included new technology, sustainability and the environment.
“This is an exciting opportunity and we look forward to receiving a request from the GCC in the coming months to tell us what they envisage.”