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GCC Members to Discuss Economic Issues at Oman Summit

A free trade agreement with the European Union, a single currency, and a unified customs tax top the issues under debate at the two-day annual summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Oman.

In a first move toward a free trade agreement with the European Union, Gulf Cooperation Council member states hope to unify their customs rate to five percent one year from now. The plan is expected to be approved during the summit in Mescat.

The current rate levied on imports by member states ranges up to 15 percent.

Unification of customs will strengthen the position of the GCC in trade negotiations with the European Union and United States. It also would move the group in line with requirements imposed by the World Trade Organization.

The GCC is a political and economic alliance comprised of Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Together they control almost half of the world's known oil reserves.

Oil production lies behind the desire for a single currency among GCC states by 2010.

Delegates at the Mescat summit are also discussing political and military objectives.

Bahrain's Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Kahlifa al Thani told the Associated Press that world events have proven the need for military consolidation and cooperation to protect peace and stability in the Middle East.

One outcome of the summit is expected to be the creation of joint defense council to fight terrorism and money laundering.

During the weekend Qatar became the last member to ratify the GCC defense pact that requires member states to come to each other's aid in the event of an attack.

The summit is also expected to address the Palestinian-Israeli issue, land disputes between the United Arab Emirates and Iran, the crisis between Pakistan and India, and the rebuilding of Afghanistan.