Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao addresses the China-Arab Business Conference
Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao addresses the China-Arab Business Conference in the Gulf emirate of Sharjah. Wen called for the speedy conclusion of talks on a free trade pact with Gulf states, as he paid a visit to the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday. © Marwan Naamani - AFP
Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao addresses the China-Arab Business Conference
AFP
Last updated: January 19, 2012

China's Wen calls for Gulf free trade pact

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao called for the speedy conclusion of talks on a free trade pact with Gulf states, as he paid a visit to the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday.

"Both sides need to show political will to sign the agreement as soon as possible," Wen told participants at a joint Chinese-Arab business conference in Sharjah, one of the UAE's seven sheikhdoms.

"The negotiations have been going on for seven and a half years, while business communities on both sides would like to see" an agreement concluded, he said.

"The launch of a free trade area will bring benefits to both sides," added the Chinese leader who is touring the Gulf amid fears that rising tensions over Iran's nuclear programme will disrupt world oil supplies.

China and the Gulf Cooperation Council announced they were launching free trade talks in July 2004, and have since held five rounds of negotiations, according to China FTA Network.

They have agreed on most issues concerning trade in goods, it said.

Bilateral trade between the GCC and China grew tenfold to $100 billion in the past decade, UAE foreign minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahayan said last year, adding the GCC aims to increase it by the same amount this decade.

On his first stop in Saudi Arabia, Wen presided over the signing of energy deals with China's top oil provider. Deals were also inked on his second stop in the UAE.

Wen's trip comes as the West ups the stakes in its standoff with Iran, threatening to impose sanctions on the oil exports of the Islamic republic, which provides 11 percent of China's oil imports.

Iran is the third largest provider of oil to China. Qatar and the UAE, although both major oil-producing states, do not yet figure among the top 10 oil exporters to the Asian economic giant.

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