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China-GCC Free Trade Agreement? 22, September 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in China and the ME.
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China’s integration into Middle East’s markets continues apace. Plans have been announced to form a free-trade zone between the GCC and China. According to Qatar’s daily newspaper, The Peninsula, the first round of talks were held in Riyadh and were successful.

Key to the GCC’s thoughts are the removal of custom tariffs. As for China, they will welcome any kind of increased or deepened relationship with the GCC. China’s thirst for energy is increasing at seemingly inexorable rates whilst their domestic supplies are in their twilight years. The confluence of these factors (discussed here) rightly has the Chinese leadership searching for better links with oil producing areas of the world to bolster their energy security (discussed here). Indeed, it is thought that China’s so-called ‘string of pearls’ – naval bases strung around the Indian Ocean including a key one in Gwadar in Pakistan right at the Straits of Hormuz – are aimed first and foremost at guarding the life-line of oil and gas from the GCC to their mainland (more here and here).

However, not all of China’s best made plans are coming to fruition. Ben Simpfendorfer’s excellent New Silk Road blog mentions two setbacks recently for the red state.

Libya has rejected a $417 million bid by China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) for Verenex, a Canadian oil-exploration company with Libyan oil leases. Libya’s national company has since purchased Verenex at 30% less than CNPC’s offer price. I’m [sic] not sure if Libya’s response was specific to China itself, or a de-facto attempt to nationalize some of its oil assets. But the response is interesting given that Libya, alongside Algeria, is one of few countries in the Middle East to receive large numbers of Chinese workers. In fact, I heard from a Libyan central bank official in June that 6,000 Chinese workers had applied for visas in the previous month alone. And I wouldn’t be surprised if this has caused some friction.

Iraq may blacklist China’s Sinopec for its purchase of the Geneva-based oil-exploration company Addax, which owns several licenses directly issued by the Kurdish Regional Government. The licenses are in breach of an Iraqi law requiring all oil deals are made in Baghdad.

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