New Zealand has successfully concluded negotiations for a free trade agreement with six oil-rich Gulf states, Trade Minister Tim Groser announced yesterday.

The Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), made up of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Qatar and Bahrain, is New Zealand's seventh-largest trading partner with bilateral trade worth $3.85 billion.

The trade negotiations began following a visit by then Trade Minster Phil Goff to the region in 2006. It is understood to be only the third FTA the GCC has concluded.

Exports to the group totalled $1.3 billion in the year to June 2009, more than three times the level in 2000.

"While exports to the region are dominated by primary sector products such as dairy, sheep meat, and wood there is an increasingly strong interest in services such as ICT [information and communications technology], education, environmental and professional services," Groser said.

"While there has been a real focus on the Asia-Pacific region of late, this FTA will provide a strong platform for export growth into a region that is likely to emerge strongly from the global recession." Officials have to complete the legal verification process before details of the FTA are able to be made public and put before ministers for signature, which is likely to be in the first half of next year.
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Wellington Regional Chamber of Commerce chief executive Charles Finny said conclusion of the negotiations was excellent news, following the recent signing of the Malaysian FTA.

"We look forward to seeing the details of the agreement but at first glance it looks like an excellent outcome," he said.

Export education was becoming increasingly important and the Gulf economies were a growing market for it, Finny said.

The New Zealand Middle East Business Council is planning a delegation to the Gulf in the New Year to support the signing of the FTA, its chairman, Michael Vukcevic, said.

Companies like Cognition, Mobilis, FrameCad and Phitek all recently secured new contracts in the region and law firm Kensington Swan was opening an office in Abu Dhabi, he said.

In addition foreign direct investment into New Zealand companies from the GCC presented an opportunity to gain not only much needed capital, but also a gateway to a substantial market.