The GCC states have agreed on a gradualist approach to unifying tariffs, a key obstacle blocking free trade with Europe. Agreement was reached at a meeting of finance ministers in Riyadh on 19 April.

The plan to unify customs rates will take some time but is the most practical way, according to Saudi Arabia’s Finance & National Economy Minister, Mohammad Ali Abalkhail. ‘Rather than pursuing a plan to unify customs on all products at one go, we will break them down to parts,’ he said.

He said the gradual approach to unifying GCC customs on groups of imported products could take two to three years to complete. Details of the products involved and the schedule would be decided by the GCC committee of customs experts in meetings starting in May.

The GCC has been trying for years to reach agreement on unifying tariffs, a key request by its main trading bloc, the EU, to facilitate a free-trade accord. Tariffs among GCC states vary from 4-20 per cent.

The GCC is seeking easy access to EU markets for petrochemical products and a final inter-GCC customs accord would improve its position in the talks.