China and the oil-dependent Gulf monarchies said Wednesday they would accelerate talks on a free trade deal that has been under negotiation for more than a decade. The announcement, in a joint statement, came during a visit to Saudi Arabia by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
"China and the GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) have decided to accelerate the pace of negotiations, review the progress made and hold the next round of negotiations in the second half of February 2016," the statement said. "China and (the) GCC also commit themselves to working closely to conclude a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement within the year of 2016."
China and the six-nation GCC announced in July 2004 the start of free trade talks.
Four years ago, then-Chinese premier Wen Jiabao called on both sides to "show political will to sign the agreement as soon as possible." Yesterday's joint statement said negotiations resumed on Sunday, and on Tuesday "substantially concluded in principle the negotiations on trade in goods."
The GCC comprises Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Trade between the Gulf and China, the world's second-largest economy, has been growing.
Two-way trade between China and Saudi Arabia alone reached $69.1 billion in 2014, according to China's official Xinhua news agency. Plunging global oil prices are forcing economic reforms in the traditionally oil-dependent Gulf economies, as China expands its economic and political ties with the Middle East.