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Wednesday, April 23, 2014  
Strengthening economic ties

by S.Madhusudhana Rao
 Gulf States’ initiative to boost business and trade within the bloc

THE 31st Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit meeting held in Abu Dhabi on December 7 would be remembered for two significant proposals the six-member group had made. First, to allow Gulf companies to open branches in member states and get treatment on a par with local national firms; and second, to set up a world counter-terrorism centre.

The GCC leaders – His Highness Sayyid Fahd Bin Mahmoud Al Said, Deputy Prime Minister for the Council of Ministers, represented the Sultanate – in their final communiqué at the end of the annual summit stressed the need for equal treatment of businesses run by nationals of member-states in the group. This measure will help economic integration at personal and business level.

Since its inception in 1981, the GCC has taken various steps and initiated several measures to bring the six Arab Gulf countries on to a single platform for the good of the people in the hydrocarbon-rich region. They have succeeded to a large extent in easing movement of people and goods, removing barriers to start businesses and invest in industries and real estate, and a host of other things. The GCC seeks to achieve the common goals of socio-economic integration, security, unity and solidarity through participation at the government and people’s level.

A great deal has been achieved on all these fronts and minor impediments in implementation of decisions taken at the summits have always been sorted out at the follow-up official meetings without any hitch. The latest move —allowing Gulf companies to open branches in other member-states on equal basis with local firms – will help boost investment and widen opportunities for businessmen within the group. Moreover, the decision would help to achieve economic cohesion.

As part of attaining that goal, the GCC leaders have instructed the authorities concerned to prepare laws to further enhance economic integration within the scope and ambit of realising the dream of a Gulf Common Market. The leaders were upbeat about the GCC economic growth as the worst period in global monetary crisis was over and expressed the confidence that the member-states would go ahead with socio-economic development plans. These would go on fast track once the Gulf railway project linking all the six states is completed by 2017. The multi-billion-dollar passenger-cum-cargo 2,117 km railway system would speed up the movement of goods and people across the Gulf. Other advantages include minimum cost and reaching Middle East and European markets faster. In a way, it can be compared to great rail lines like trans-Siberian and one of the spin-off benefits will be an increase in tourist traffic.

A proposal to establish a world counter-terrorism centre is an excellent idea. Terrorism has emerged as No.1 threat to global security and stability in recent years. Militancy and terrorist activities are rocking many countries and the loss of human lives and damage to properties are immense. Despite global cooperation and individual countries’ fight against terrorists, they are creating chaos and  causing havoc with the sole aim of destabilising the society or avenge deaths of members of their groups or to establish their own brand of ideological government.

Terrorism is a global problem and as such the GCC summit’s proposal to tackle it is an initiative worthy of consideration by world powers and others to strengthen international efforts to root out the scourge. The Gulf leaders’ stress on “the importance of working towards drying up sources of funding for terrorist groups and foiling their criminal aims” is a welcome stance.

The Gulf leaders, once again threw their weight behind Palestinians and their demand for a freeze on expansion of Jewish settlements in the occupied areas, including Israel-annexed East Jerusalem, and their struggle for an independent and viable Palestinian state. The leaders also called on the Palestinian factions to unify their ranks and form a government to boost inter-Palestinian unity to establish their state.

The GCC leaders who reviewed the regional and international situation, besides developments in the Gulf, congratulated His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said on his 40 years of leadership and the Sultanate’s achievements in human development and its top rank in the global index of 135 nations.

 On the nuclear issues, the GCC leaders appealed to Iran to respond positively to talks with world powers on its contentious nuclear programme and stressed the right of all countries in the region to develop civilian nuclear energy under IAEA norms without any exception (including Israel) as well as making the Middle East a nuclear arms-free zone.

On other issues, the Gulf leaders considered a proposal for common investments in education and health; sought suitable mechanisms to increase trade volumes with the Gulf states; took note of reports on monetary union and common power grid; approved an amendment to a unified anti-dumping law; hailed the talks the Gulf states have had with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), China and Turkey on economic cooperation; praised the member states’ efforts in fighting terrorism; noted the steps taken to strengthen the common security and defence force Peninsula Shield; welcomed the accords between the Sudanese government and dissident groups and rejected measures taken by the International Criminal Court over the Darfur conflict and charges against Sudanese President Omar Hassan Al Bashir; supported the security, stability and territorial unity of Somalia; urged South and North Korea to exercise restraint in the ongoing tensions; and called on the international community to extend every possible help to victims of  Pakistani floods.

Oman Tribune

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