(MENAFN - Arab News) The six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) has taken the first step to transform into a stronger union with the launch of the first meeting of a high-powered panel studying the new initiative, said the council's secretary-general in Riyadh on Tuesday.
In his opening remarks at the meeting, Abdullateef Al-Zayani said the Gulf states have started working on the proposal to form the Gulf Union, a provision explained in article four of the GCC charter.
Al-Zayani was speaking at the opening session of the GCC Commission, which will study the initiative of Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah to form a Gulf Union.
The commission has three nominated representatives from each member state. The meeting was attended by several GCC officials and delegates besides some former GCC secretary generals.
The opening session of the three-day meeting was chaired by Dr. Musaed Bin Mohammed Al-Aiban, the Kingdom's minister of state and 'cabinet minister.
Referring to the political unification to be preceded by full-fledged economic integration, which will eventually create an entity capable of handling strategic issues in the form of a GCC union, Al-Zayani said the world awaits further elucidation of the idea of a "single entity."
"Despite great strides since its inception, the GCC's integration is still a work in progress," said the GCC chief, while referring to the resolve of the GCC to map out strategy to unify the plans and policies of the Gulf states and eventually establish a union.
Gulf states have forged closer political ties, military cooperation and security ties. This is in addition to the progress achieved by the GCC in terms of unifying its policies and plans in the fields of defense, human and environment affairs, judicial affairs, auditing, economy, agriculture and many other areas. "We are proceeding to a higher degree of harmonization in several areas," he added.
Al-Zayani said regional integration efforts in the GCC countries have recently gained momentum and will help coordinate and strengthen the numerous structural reforms.
"Indeed, significant progress toward regional integration has already been achieved since the GCC was established about two decades ago", he added. "The Riyadh declaration may seem somewhat premature to outside observers," said Ahmed Al-Kabi, a spokesman of the GCC General Secretariat, while referring to the deliberations of the panel today.
"Viewed in a political perspective, however, the project is a timely response to a fast changing strategic landscape", said Al-Kabi. He pointed out the GCC has been heading in the direction of a union without any notice. In this context, he noted barriers to free movement of goods, services, national labor, and capital have been largely eliminated by the member states. Regulations of the banking sector are being gradually harmonized, while banks are now allowed to open branches in member countries, he noted.
In the beginning of the meeting, Al-Aiban welcomed the members and urged the participants to work hard to achieve the goal. He requested them to come up with ideas and develop mechanisms as well as executive steps that would make this initiative a reality after some time. A preliminary report prepared by the GCC Commission will be sent to the GCC foreign ministers, who will review the report during their meeting in March this year.