• Trade & Investment Minister will meet GCC Secretariat and country representatives
  • Australia and GCC have about $12bn in trade annually
  • Australia hopes to encourage GCC investment as it privatises ports and power stations

Australia is resuming high-level talks on a GCC free trade agreement (FTA).

Trade & Investment Minister Andrew Robb will arrive with a trade delegation to the GCC on 12 April, and will meet the GCC Secretariat as well as country representatives during his visit.

Australia and the GCC have about $12bn in trade annually. Trade dipped in 2014 due to lower oil prices, but food imports from Australia increased 36 per cent.

Australia exports more than AU$70bn ($53bn) of food products a year, according to its Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade. The GCC imports more than 70 per cent of its food requirements, and is increasingly concerned with food security.

Talks stalled at an early stage in 2009, when the GCC suspended negotiations with all trading partners.

“We’re very keen to put the argument firmly that negotiations with Australia should be resumed as a priority,” said Pablo Kang, Australian ambassador to the UAE. “An FTA [free trade agreement] would also assist with promoting and facilitating more foreign investment into Australia.”

Australia hopes to encourage GCC investment as it privatises ports and power stations. The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority already owns a minority stake in the Brisbane, Botany and Kembla ports.

The UAE invested $17bn in Australia in 2013, while Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are also major investors. Qatar has invested $500m in agricultural land acquisitions in Australia.

The trade commission is focusing its investment efforts on sovereign wealth funds and state enterprises who are interested in investing in Australia, especially in infrastructure and agriculture.

“It’s a lot of work to coordinate the GCC Secretariat in Riyadh and the six states, and our FTA negotiations with China took 10 years,” said Kang. “We are marketing this as a test case for the GCC to get an early one on the board before tackling long, complicated negotiations with major economies such as China and Asia.”

GCC companies would also be able to set up operations in Australia and take advantage of its recent FTAs with South Korea, China and Japan.

Australian trade promotion is focused on three areas of expertise:

  • Food and agribusiness
  • Education and healthcare
  • Sustainable urban development, and water and energy management

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