BRUSSELS, Nov 24 (KUNA) -- The 27-member European Union and the six-member Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) underlined their commitment to deepen and broaden their cooperation.
"This meeting is both welcome and timely, given the very challenging global developments we have faced, and continue to face, in 2022," said Executive Vice-President of the European Commission Valdis Dombrovskis in his keynote speech at the Sixth EU-GCC Economic Forum that kicked off in Brussels on Thursday.
"In this challenging environment, the EU is fully committed to strengthening economic ties between our two regional blocs. By developing our areas of mutual interest, by working in a more collaborative way, we can achieve real benefits," he said.
"The EU is guided in this important work by our Communication on a 'Strategic Partnership with the Gulf', published in May of this year. The strategic aim of this roadmap is clear: we want to broaden and deepen our cooperation with the GCC and its member countries," noted the top EU official.
He said that together the EU and GCC represent 20 percent of the global economy, 17.5 percent of global trade, and more than half of global foreign direct investment.
In 2021, the EU was the GCC's second biggest trade partner, hile, the EU was GCC's fifth biggest export market. Bilateral investment flows and trade in services are also very robust, he said.
"We view the Gulf as a dynamic neighbouring region, and an important gateway between Europe, Asia and Africa," stressed Dombrovskis, a former prime minister of Latvia.
"From the EU side, we are keen to continue discussions, aiming to improve understanding of our respective positions, with a view towards resuming negotiations for a free trade agreement," he said.
Today's discussions should take a closer look at areas of mutual interest, including an enhanced trade and investment environment, regulatory and customs cooperation, as well as sustainable development objectives, he said.
When it comes to the Green Economy, we note with great satisfaction that the GCC countries are stepping up efforts in the fields of renewable energy, electric cars and circular economy, he said and added that "there is huge potential for synergies between our regions in these and other areas of the green economy," he said.
Dombrovskis announced that the EU intends to support the creation of EU Chambers of Commerce in the GCC countries and welcomed the economic diversification strategies in the respective Gulf countries.
"The EU-GCC Economic Diversification Project was set up to support these strategies. The forum which we organise today is one of the components of this project," he said.
"For the Gulf countries, food security is an important priority. You are developing state-of-the-art technologies, such as Artificial Intelligence, biotechnology and genetic engineering to enhance your local production capacity. The EU can be a privileged partner in this respect, as we have developed cutting-edge technologies and practices in agriculture," he said.
"The theme of today's event is People, Place and Prosperity. Simply put, we should leave no stone unturned in realising the full potential of cooperation between our regions. I am sure that today's impressive Business Forum will contribute to this goal in a meaningful and tangible way," he concluded.
On his part, Dr. Abdel Aziz Abu Hamad Aluwaisheg, Assistant Secretary General for Political and Negotiations Affairs in the GCC told the Forum that "35 years ago in Luxembourg, the GCC and the EU signed their first cooperation agreement. Since then, the relationship between the two blocs has grown significantly."
In February of this year, the GCC and EU foreign ministers announced from here in Brussels a new strategic partnership between the two blocs. They also adopted a joint action program (JAP) for the next five years to cement this partnership. And in May, the EU announced a new strategy toward the Gulf, stressing the importance of this relationship, he pointed out.
"So the timing of today's forum is excellent, to take advantage of this momentum. The new JAP includes important economic components that the business community could utilize and build on," stressed the GCC official.
"There is no denying that we are living in the shadow of the war in Ukraine, which has led to energy shortages, food insecurity and an economic slowdown that could lead to a global recession, but this is also the time to act, to deal with those repercussions," he said .
Despite these difficult circumstance, GCC economies have done very well in 2022, passing a major milestone in their history. For the first time, their combined GDP exceeded USD two trillion, making the GCC the ninth largest economy worldwide, he told the Forum.
While the overall picture is optimistic, even uplifting, there are many challenges ahead, especially the risk of global recession, which means that both policy makers and business leaders need to double their efforts to avoid local recessions or reduce their effects, he said.
Aluwaisheg e proposed five priority areas for the business-to-business cooperation between the EU and GCC, which are energy, food security, diversification, and projects that contribute to job creation and training and education for the new skills needed for a more diversified economy.
Dr. Thani bin Ahmed al Zeyoudi Minister of State for Foreign Trade in the UAE in his recorded message to the Forum said this is the time to look for deepening trade and investment exchanges between the two blocs.
The Forum has organised four panels today that will address current climate change, energy security, environmental, and digital transition challenges in EU and GCC countries.
The GCC includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE. (end)