GCC ready to forge closer links with EU

Foreign ministers from the GCC and the European Union (EU) are expected to endorse an agreement to co-operate on areas ranging from nuclear safety to stemming the financing of terrorism.

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BRUSSELS // Foreign ministers from the GCC and the European Union (EU) are expected to endorse on Monday an agreement to co-operate on areas ranging from nuclear safety to stemming the financing of terrorism. "This co-operation shows that our relations are not simply trade relations," said Tomas Dupla Del Moral, the director of Middle East and South Mediterranean at the EU's directorate general for external relations. "We have a lot of common interests that we can develop."

The blocs have engaged in protracted negotiations for two decades on a free trade agreement that, if signed, would be the largest of its kind. The three-year deal that the ministers are expected to endorse in Luxembourg on Monday will probably involve strategic partnerships that will expand on bilateral agreements, such as on security issues, already in place between nations from the two regions.

Areas of co-operation in the Luxembourg joint action scheme include trade, electricity, nuclear safety, water, transport, environmental issues, including climate change, industrial co-operation, money-laundering, terrorism financing, intellectual property rights, telecoms and information technology, scientific research and culture. "As for the time that we have set to develop these common interests, that's very viable," said Mr Dupla Del Moral. "What we have to do is to fix ourselves on events that can take place between 2010 and 2013."

Faouzi Bensarsa, an energy counsellor at the EU, said co-operation would be focused on expertise, research and industry. He said there was great potential for co-operation in energy. In December, the UAE signed a contract with a Korean consortium to build four nuclear power plants in Abu Dhabi. The International Agency for Renewable Energy is also based in the capital. Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, has repeatedly stressed the UAE's keenness to develop renewable energy.

"Nuclear co-operation would not be on infrastructure, but about international rules and regulations," said Mr Bensarsa. "We will be happy to provide them with our experience and knowledge." Mr Faouzi expressed the EU's interest in seeing gas fields further developed in the Gulf region. Qatar is already the EU's seventh biggest supplier of gas, but European governments are desperate to secure stable supplies.

In January, millions of Europeans were left without heat during one of the coldest winters in recent history when Russia cut off gas supplies to eastern and central Europe. "There is a huge potential for investment in gas," he said. With the EU unlikely to import gas from Iran in the foreseeable future, the GCC - which has reserves estimated to be worth US$7.1 trillion (Dh26 trillion) - has the potential to become a major supplier.

Most GCC states have traditionally shied away from drilling gas fields, focusing the bulk of their investments on oil. This is beginning to change. In April, Saudi Aramco's revealed a strategic shift towards gas activity and exploration and away from drilling to develop existing oil reserves. "The issue of gas has not been considered in the GCC because of oil," said Mr Bensarsa. "Now, there is a political will in the GCC for gas because of the market and climate change."

Gas is a much cleaner fuel for power plants than oil. European officials are hoping a gas pipeline could run from the Gulf, through Iraq, to Europe. "The Iraq of tomorrow is not the Iraq of today," said Mr Bensarsa.