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GCC sees stronger ties with US under Obama

Oil accounts for the bulk of GCC's exports to the US market. (AFP)

By Nadim Kawach

Gulf oil producers believe their economic relationship with the US will get a new push after Barack Obama took over as president of the most powerful nation and their main trading partner, officials said yesterday.

After recent talks in Bahrain, representatives of the private sector in the US and the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) agreed to organise a major investment conference this year to discuss mutual business opportunities and decided to invite Obama to speak at the meeting.

The Federation of GCC Chambers of Commerce and Industry and the US Chambers of Commerce said they also had agreed to pursue a regular dialogue and to cooperate and work closely to enhance the business and economic links.

"With the change of leadership in America, the Gulf looks forward to better opportunities. These envisioned activities will jumpstart a fruitful future for both the GCC and the US," said Abdul Rahman Naqi, Secretary-General of the Federation of the GCC Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

In a statement sent to Emirates Business, Naqi said the Dammam-based federation, which represents the wealthiest private sector in the Middle East, and delegates from the US Chambers agreed to organise a series of activities this year, including an investment forum to discuss business opportunities.

They comprise a GCC-US investment forum, an event addressing the current global financial crisis, a tourism conference, a road show by US companies in the GCC and a similar road show by the GCC in the US. A series of seminars on corporate governance highlighting the need to instal the market competitiveness of GCC private business sector is also included in the action plan.

"These activities will hopefully signal we are serious in pursuing a long-term, strategic and fruitful relation between our private sectors," Naqi said. "The GCC Chambers and the US Chamber of Commerce agreed on the following focus of the forum – that high-level delegates from both the GCC and the US side must be organised; the presence of President Barack Obama as the keynote speaker will be the key point for the success of the event; and the private business sectors, including small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and family business should be the focal point of concern."

Regarding the corporate governance forum, Naqi stressed the importance of selecting a US speaker who is knowledgeable on what he termed as the development thrusts in the GCC countries.

He noted that GCC Secretary-General Abdul Rahman Al Atiyah would also be invited to both the investment forum and the governance event. "Both parties also stressed that the speakers who will address the financial crisis forum and tourism should be high-profile personalities," Naqi said.

The US is the second largest single economic partner of the GCC after Japan, with their two-way trade peaking at nearly $77 billion (Dh282bn) in the first nine months of 2008. The balance has long remained in favour of the US, with its exports to the 28-year-old Gulf alliance standing at nearly $52bn.

Oil accounts for the bulk of the GCC's exports to the US market and most of them

are supplied by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – the world's top crude supplier.

The GCC's imports from the US include mainly cars, aircraft, machinery, industrial equipment, foodstuffs, and other products.

The two sides had been locked in negotiations on a free trade agreement before the US decided to opt for bilateral deals. It has signed FTA with Bahrain and Oman and is negotiating such an agreement with the UAE.

A large part of the GCC's overseas investments, mainly by sovereign wealth funds, is believed to be concentrated in the US.