GCC-China free trade deal must protect burgeoning Gulf industries: Saudi minister

The FTA negotiated between China and the Saudi-dominated Gulf Cooperation Council must protect burgeoning Gulf industries, the Saudi investment minister said on Sunday, adding he hoped it would be finalized soon.

“We need to enable and enable our industries to export, so we hope that all countries negotiating FTAs ​​with us know that we need to protect our new, emerging industries,” said Investment Minister Khalid al-Falih.

“We have to offer them a market economy and some kind of protection,” he said at the Arab-Chinese economic conference in Riyadh, without giving any details.

Negotiations on a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between China and the Gulf Cooperation Council began in 2004 but have repeatedly stalled, most recently in 2016 after a ninth round. They have recently seen renewed momentum with tightening ties between Saudi Arabia under Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and China, with China’s foreign minister calling for talks to resume in early 2021.

Falih said he hoped the talks would reach an agreement soon.

“We have come from far. The leadership of both sides shows readiness,” said Falih.

The Gulf’s two largest economies, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have adopted new industrial strategies to boost domestic economic growth and non-oil exports. Saudi Arabia is developing sectors such as domestic manufacturing, mining and minerals, and advanced technology.

“GCC countries – especially the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as the largest economy, population and workforce – we need to work on sectors other than energy,” Falih said of what the GCC countries expect from any deal.

Gulf countries like the United Arab Emirates are investing more and more energy in trade deals and investment partnerships to diversify their hydrocarbon-focused economies.

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