'A 40-year journey': Nayef Al Hajraf on the rise of the GCC

The Gulf Co-operation Council is building a bright future, secretary general says before 41st GCC Summit

Nayef Al Hajraf, the GCC secretary general, says the bloc is poised to make major strides. Courtesy: Gulf Co-operation Council
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The achievements of the GCC have put the region on the path to a brighter future, its secretary general said as leaders of the six member states prepared for their annual meeting.

Nayef Al Hajraf, in an interview to Al Ekhbariya TV, discussed the bloc's achievements and opportunities, as well as the agenda of the 41st GCC summit, which will be held at Al Ula in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.

The secretary general also laid out some of the near-term plans of the intergovernmental body, and its rise to global economic and political stature.

Mr Hajraf said the achievements of the Gulf Co-operation Council included a customs union, a common market, the free movement of citizens and an interconnected power grid through the GCC interconnectivity authority.

The grid is being expanded as the GCC seeks to increase regional stability, with a 300-kilometre transmission line being built from Kuwait to Al Faw in Iraq.

Taken together, these initiatives will lead to a “march to build a bright future”, Mr Hajraf said.

He highlighted the creation of the Gulf Railway Authority, enhancing cross-border trade within the bloc, which was already approaching $100 billion in economic value before to the coronavirus pandemic struck early last year.

Between 1983, when intra-GCC trade began through a free-trade agreement, and 2014, trade within the bloc increased 40-fold and has remained resilient despite economic headwinds.

The GCC has in recent years has gained the status of a global economic powerhouse, the secretary general said, with a combined GDP of $1.6 trillion and four of the world’s top 10 sovereign wealth funds.

The GCC is "the centre of a circle that includes two billion people", Mr Hajraf said. "We must look at this circle and the available capabilities, in terms of strategic location, waterways, airports, ports, transport networks, and the attractiveness of the GCC countries for investments."

Dwelling on the issue of resilience amid the pandemic – one of the worst crises internationally since the Second World War – Mr Hajraf said Saudi Arabia's successful hosting of the G20 summit last year was evidence that despite huge challenges, the GCC can overcome adverse circumstances.

"We watched with pride the Saudi presidency of the G20 and how the kingdom managed to lead the [international forum] to promote international co-operation," he said.

“Today, as we witness preparations for the 41st session of the Supreme Council, we stress the importance of strengthening all areas of Gulf co-operation and integration and advancing the economic file, by strengthening and supporting joint action to contribute to restoring economic recovery and growth and returning to normal life to achieve sustainable development goals after the pandemic.”

The Sustainable Development Goals are 17 objectives outlined by the UN to eliminate poverty and promote peace and stability by 2030. GCC countries have adopted these goals, becoming substantial contributors to global humanitarian and economic development aid.

The GCC as a whole is expected to begin economic recovery this year as oil markets begin to stabilise, according to a forecast by S&P Global Ratings.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE – the GCC’s two biggest economies – have succeeded in boosting non-oil revenue, building the foundations for longer-term resilience. The gradual lifting of travel restrictions this year will boost some of the GCC economies, particularly the UAE and Oman; the latter development will also be important for Saudi Arabia, as it continues to build a nascent tourism industry.

The GCC’s achievements “are the result of a 40-year journey, despite the challenges that coincided with the beginning of each decade”, Mr Hajraf said.