AUSTRALIA may broaden a free trade deal with the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to include a string of Persian Gulf nations, including Saudi Arabia.
Trade Minister Mark Vaile said the UAE, with which Australia has been negotiating a free trade agreement (FTA) since last year, had sought to expand the talks to cover the Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC).
The idea of an Australia-GCC FTA was first raised more than two years ago, and had been considered a possibility out of an Australia-UAE deal for some time.
The Gulf council covers the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Oman, Kuwait and Bahrain.
Australia’s two-way merchandise trade with Gulf countries amounts to $6.5 billion a year. It runs a trade surplus of more than $1.7 billion with the nations.
Its biggest exports to the region are motor vehicles while its largest import from the area is oil.
Mr Vaile said he had instructed his department to carry out an analysis of the economic and trade implications of an FTA with the Gulf group.
“The GCC as a whole is a major market for Australian exports, roughly equivalent in size to other key markets such as the United Kingdom, Singapore or Thailand,” he said.
“I remain committed to expanding our strong and growing economic and trade relations with the region as a whole and we will look closely at using the good progress we made in the UAE negotiations to advance our export interests through a possible GCC wide agreement.”
The FTA negotiations with the UAE was considered one of the easiest of the range of free trade deals Australia was examining.
Australia was in talks with Malaysia, the ASEAN group of nations, and with China for FTAs, and was carrying out a scoping study with Japan on the idea.
A GCC deal would be on top of deals Australia already has in place with New Zealand, Singapore, the US and Thailand.