GCC states should quickly unify customs tariffs and co-ordinate economic policies before they join the General Agreement on Tariffs & Trade (GATT), according to a study by the UAE’s Emirates Industrial Bank. GATT membership would further boost the regional oil industries, but would pose ‘new challenges that could only be overcome through unifying (GCC) economies and finding a joint Gulf market which would give them big resources to negotiate and compete with other economic groups in the world,’ the study says.

Kuwait, and Bahrain since December, are the only GCC states which are GATT members. The UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have observer status. GATT’s ruling council said in July it was working for the early admission of Saudi Arabia. The UAE agreed in principle in January to join GATT as a full member. GCC tariffs range from about 2 per cent in the UAE to 12 per cent in Saudi Arabia.

GCC efforts to reach a free trade accord with the European Union (EU) will be discussed at a 19-20 April meeting between the two sides in Muscat. A key issue will be the GCC states’ opposition to a proposed European energy tax on their exports of oil and oil products.