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Gulf region

EU trade relations with the Gulf region. Facts, figures and latest developments.

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The six member countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) represent an important region from a trade and investment point of view. The GCC region is the EU’s 6th largest export market and an important source and destination of investment for EU Member States.

The GCC countries have formed their own customs union and are working towards the goal of completing an internal market.

EU-GCC relations are based on a Cooperation Agreement from 1988, which establishes regular dialogues on cooperation between the EU and GCC on trade and investment issues, macro-economic matters, climate change, energy, the environment, and research. Regular ‘Senior Official Meetings’ between the EU and individual GCC countries also cover trade and investment-related issues.

A more structured informal EU-GCC Dialogue on Trade and Investment was launched in May 2017.

Trade picture

  • The EU is the 2nd biggest trade partner of the GCC (right after China,15.8%), representing 12.3% of the GCC’s total trade in goods with the world in 2020. 17.8% of the GCC’s imports came from the EU in 2020. The EU thus ranked as the GCC’s number one import partner. In 2020, the EU was the 4th biggest export partner of the GCC as 6.9% of the GCC’s exports went to the EU.
  • EU-GCC total trade in goods in 2020 amounted to €97.1 billion. The EU’s imports were worth €29.6 billion and they were led by fuel and mining products (€18.6 billion, 62.8%) as well as chemicals (€3.4, 11.5%). The EU’s exports totalled €67.5 billion and were dominated by machinery and transport equipment (€26.7 billion, 39.6%), chemicals (10.4 billion, 15.4%) and agriculture and raw materials (€8.9 billion, 13.2%).
  • Two-way trade in services between the EU and the GCC in 2019 amounted to €51.7 billion, with EU’s imports of services representing €18.0 billion and exports €33.7 billion.
  • In 2018, total EU foreign direct investment outward stock in the GCC region amounted to €76.9 billion.

The EU and the Gulf region

1988’s EU-GCC Cooperation Agreement provides the framework for economic and political cooperation between the EU and the GCC countries. The agreement seeks to improve trade relations and stability in a strategic part of Europe's neighbourhood. It created a Joint Council and a Joint Cooperation Committee.

The two sides meet on an annual basis to discuss trade, investment and regional cooperation, amongst other topics, within the EU-GCC Joint Cooperation Committee held in Riyadh or Brussels.

In May 2017, the EU and the GCC launched a dedicated Dialogue on Trade and Investment Issues, involving the private sector. The dialogue tackles trade and investment-related issues and enhances cooperation on matters of mutual interest, such as market access irritants, regulatory requirements and ways to encourage greater two-way trade and investment flows.

The World Bank classifies the six GCC countries as high-income economies.Therefore they do not benefit from preferential access to the EU market under the EU's Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP).

More details on the EU's Generalised Scheme of Preferences

The EU-GCC Dialogue on Economic Diversification has been working since 2019 to develop connections and to build partnerships based on the exchange of EU experience and expertise to assist GCC countries in their economic diversification strategies.

The project has helped to identify new business opportunities and areas of economic cooperation between the two regions, as well as between the EU and individual GCC countries.

EU-Gulf Cooperation Council trade negotiations

The EU and GCC launched negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in 1990. The FTA was meant to provide for the progressive and reciprocal liberalisation of trade in goods and services. However, negotiations were suspended in 2008 as they faced several challenges.

In parallel with the negotiations, the prospective EU-GCC FTA was subject to a sustainability impact assessment.

Committees and Dialogues

The EU and GCC meet regularly to discuss issues and best practices and oversee the proper functioning of the Agreement.

Technical committee meetings - agendas and reports

Trading with the Gulf region

Latest news

  • News article

EU knocks down barriers to exports of ceramic tiles

As of today, 31 March 2022, EU exporters of ceramic tiles will no longer need to undergo redundant testing or product audits when they export to Saudi Arabia, meaning exporting will become cheaper, faster and more predictable.