BRUSSELS - The Sixth Economic Forum between the European Union (EU) and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has set the foundations to enhance further cooperation between the two regional blocs, according to participants at the one-day event held in Brussels.

Leopolodo Rubinaci, Deputy Director General for Trade in the European Commission, in closing remarks said the Forum "provided us with an excellent opportunity to listen to distinguished experts who provided us with their assessment on a number of key topics affecting the economic and trade relations between the EU and the GCC."

"As such this event has provided an excellent foundation to enhance further cooperation between public and private sectors in both the EU and the GCC," he emphasized.

The speakers expressed their views on a wide range of topics such as environment, energy, investment, digital transition, he said and added that "we heard that the GCC countries have new determination to diversify their economies."

"EU and GCC are partners in progress," stressed the EU official.

On his part, Douglas Aitkenhead, team leader EU-GCC Dialogue on Economic Diversification Project, said that after the tragedy of the pandemic EU-GCC relations are being reset and the Forum discussed what shape the reset may take and its implications on the peoples of the EU and GCC.

"There is one common factor that has been underlined in all the issues discussed and that common factor is technology. It is no exaggeration to say that technology is and will continue to change our lives in many ways economically socially and physically," he said in his concluding remarks.

The theme of the Forum was "people, place and prosperity" and there have been discussions on the importance for both the EU and the GCC to ensure that our people have the right skills for the future, he said.

"Business forums are not the end of the process. In many cases they are merely the beginning. Our discussion at the forum are the beginning of a deepening and crucial process of EU-GCC cooperation particularly in terms of business to business contact," said Aitkenhead.

"We need to do more to connect our respective business communities" he said and concluded, that "tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today." Dr. Ayman Alfudhaili, from the Industrial Innovation Academy, Oman told KUNA that "this kind of activity should take place often between the EU and the GCC. There were exchanges of so many thoughts and experiences which will open opportunities."

"Such activities will help both sides to learn from each other and lead to prosperity," said the Omani participant.

He opined that the Ukraine war should act as a catalyst to develop closer ties between the two blocs arguing that the proximity in the world is very close these days and no one can survive just by standing alone.

"The EU needs our energy we need their knowledge and with such events this relationship can be developed," he added.

Timo Hammaren, deputy head of unit for Middle East in Directorate-General for Trade in the European Commission, said there" were very interesting discussions and we had four lively panels on different topics."

"There was a good interaction between the panelists from the Gulf and the EU and we had some good concrete ideas as well to take this relationship further," he told KUNA.

He noted that the EU's new strategy on the Gulf adopted last May will have to be made real and put into practice. "These discussions will contribute to that," he said.

Hammaren revealed that there are more Gulf investments in the EU than EU investments in the Gulf and added that "this is indicative that there is more potential for the Gulf to attract investments which will help them to diversify their economies."

Qaisar Hijazin, Secretary General, of the Brussels-based Arab-Belgium-Luxembourg Chamber of Commerce pointed out the importance of holding the economic forum between the EU and the GCC.

The Forum indicates the interest of both parties in promoting and strengthening relations between the two parties, he told KUNA.

The topics discussed during the dialogue sessions are of particular importance, especially since they did not focus only on trade exchanges, but also referred to economic transformation witnessed by the GCC countries and their relentless pursuit to diversify their economies so that they do not depend only on the oil and gas sector, he said.

Hijazin noted that the volume of trade exchanges between the EU and GCC countries is expected to reach 100 billion euros (USD 100 billion) in 2022.

In his keynote speech at the Forum Executive Vice-President of the European Commission Valdis Dombrovskis said "in this challenging environment, the EU is fully committed to strengthening economic ties between our two regional blocs. By developing our areas of mutual interest, by working in a more collaborative way, we can achieve real benefits."

On his part, Dr. Abdel Aziz Abu Hamad Aluwaisheg, Assistant Secretary General in the GCC, in his speech at the Forum proposed five priority areas for the business-to-business cooperation between the EU and GCC which are energy, food security, diversification, and projects that contribute to job creation and training and education for the new skills needed for a more diversified economy.

The GCC includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and UAE. 

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