Patience is a virtue

European Union Member of Parliament, Jean-Louis Bourlanges says the EU will not be rushed into making deals with the GCC.

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By  John Irish Published  April 14, 2004

Jean-Louis Bourlanges, member of the European Parliament, today (April 14) called on the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to give the EU more time before signing a free trade deal between both regions. Responding to GCC secretary general Abdul Rahman Al Attiya’s comments that the EU had been procrastinating for 15 years over signing a trade agreement with the Council, Bourlanges claimed it was normal for negotiations to take time. “The EU is always accused of procrastination,” Bourlanges told Arabian Business. “Deals like this take time and it’s normal for the more interested party, in this case the GCC, to want to make things go faster.” When pressed on the length of negotiations, Bourlanges remained cautious in his approach, although acknowledging that the recently created GCC customs union would help speed negotiations up. Looking at the global picture, Bourlanges was quick to place the GCC negotiations in the framework of the recent WTO talks in Cancun. “After the Cancun conference, where many nations including ones from the Middle East confronted us and our policy of agreeing with the US with the exception of agricultural issues, we have to reassess our commercial relations with the rest of the world,” he said. “The GCC is one of those areas.” The ongoing deadlock between the two regions, however, looks like continuing. Just three months ago, an Italian trade delegation to the UAE had called on the EU to harmonise and liberalise its policies towards GCC nations, placing much of the blame on France for protecting its national interests. “We feel that the EU needs a policy that leads to harmonisation and liberalisation. Even in this region, which has difficulties, we feel it is imperative we reach a free trade agreement,” explained Adolfo Urso, deputy minister for productive activities at Italy’s Ministry of Trade. GCC officials see the lack of a deal as a sign that the EU is not serious about reaching a final agreement. “Negotiations started one and a half decades ago,” Al Attiya told reporters in Kuwait. “ Unfortunately, at each round of talks, certain political issues are raised [by the European Union]. “Sometimes they talk about human rights, a second time weapons of mass destruction and also other issues,” he added. “I believe their pretexts are invalid.” The coming month should be a defining point in relations between the two regions. Al Attiya has already threatened to suspend negotiations if talks at a meeting between himself and EU ministers on May 19 prove fruitless. It seems the ball is now firmly in Brussels’ court.

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