India, GCC agree to pursue free trade agreement; Resume talks: Piyush Goyal

India and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have agreed to pursue a free trade agreement (FTA) between the two regions and resume the negotiations, Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal said on Thursday.

GCC is a union of six countries in the Gulf region — Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Qatar, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain. The council is the largest trading bloc of India.

India’s exports to the GCC member countries grew by 58.26 per cent to about USD 44 billion in 2021-22 against USD 27.8 billion in 2020-21, according to data from the commerce ministry.

Bilateral trade in goods has increased to USD 154.73 billion in 2021-22 from USD 87.4 billion in 2020-21. Services trade between the two regions was valued at around USD 14 billion in 2021-22, with exports aggregated at USD 5.5 billion and imports at USD 8.3 billion.

“We have agreed to pursue the free trade agreement between the GCC and India and resume the negotiations and conclude the same at the earliest,” Goyal told reporters here in a joint press conference with GCC Secretary General Nayef Falah M Al-Hajraf here.

GCC countries contribute almost 35 percent of India’s oil imports and 70 percent of its gas imports. India’s overall crude oil imports from the GCC in 2021-22 were about USD 48 billion, while LNG and LPG imports in 2021-22 stood at about USD 21 billion.

Both sides held negotiations for the trade pact in 2006 and 2008 but talks stalled thereafter due to unknown reasons.

When asked about the next round of talks to resume the negotiations, Goyal said teams of both sides would decide that. He said that the FTA covers areas including trade, and investment promotion.

“I am sure the engagement with the GCC will be in tune with the truly unique and special relations enjoyed by the countries of the GCC region and India,” Goyal said adding “India plays an important role in food security and contributes to healthcare architecture of the GCC, the GCC is a reliable partner in catering to India’s energy security”.

The GCC Secretary General said: “This is a very broad FTA and it reflects mutual areas of interest to focus on”.

Al-Hajraf said it is a platform for the two economies to move forward on some sectors of mutual interest such as food security, energy security, and technology transfer.

“We are very keen to pursue the FTA negotiations between both sides…. And we instructed the negotiating teams to finalize all the needed documents for official resumptions for the FTA,” he added.

He also said that Indian expats contribute to the GCC economy.

Gulf nations are host to a sizeable Indian population. Out of about 32 million non-resident Indians (NRIs), nearly half are estimated to be working in the Gulf countries.

GCC countries account for almost 35 percent of India’s oil imports and 70 percent of gas imports. India’s overall crude oil imports from the GCC in 2021-22 were about USD 48 billion, while LNG and LPG imports in 2021-22 were about USD 21 billion.

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