ASEAN and the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, commonly known as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), have agreed to institutionalize their cooperation and elevate their relationship to a ministerial level.  

ASEAN and GCC have had informal periodical consultations since the 1990s on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York. Impressive growths in their bilateral trade, growing opportunities for investment and urgent issues of mutual interest have led both sides to formalise their cooperation. In July this year, the ASEAN Foreign Ministers resolved at their 41st Meeting to seek their GCC counterparts’ concurrence for a regularised mechanism in the form of an annual Foreign Ministers’ Meeting. The GCC reciprocated the ASEAN Ministers’ initiative when they met in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Dr Surin Pitsuwan, Secretary-General of ASEAN, said, “The increasing volume of trade between the two regions has been impressive, from US$18.3 billion in 2002 to US$57.1 billion in 2006. Total trade in the span of five years reached US$160.1 billion, representing a 213% growth.  With the rise of oil prices and the growing concern over food shortages worldwide, ASEAN and GCC agree that there is a large space for cooperation and closer coordination of issues facing the two regions. That is why the Foreign Ministers of both sides have agreed to enhance their consultations on many issues of common concern.”

Dr Surin visited the GCC Secretariat in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, earlier this week to discuss details of the formal modality of cooperation with Abdulrahman Bin Hamad Al-Attiyah, the Secretary-General of GCC. The consultations took place with the ASEAN Riyadh Committee in attendance.

Mr Abdulrahman Bin Hamad Al-Attiyah said, “We see a lot of potential in our ASEAN-GCC enhanced cooperation. While the GCC exports energy resources to the ASEAN countries and through Southeast Asia to the giant economies of East Asia, namely China, Japan and South Korea, we import food and other manufacturing products from the ASEAN countries. The issue of food security is therefore of critical importance to the GCC Member States.”

The GCC Secretary-General also revealed that recently, the GCC Economic Ministers have decided to set-up a fund to invest in agriculture production worldwide. “This is definitely something that ASEAN Member States with large agricultural production should be interested in,” said Dr Surin.

The two sides agreed to hold the first meeting of the Foreign Ministers between ASEAN and GCC in the first quarter of 2009. Details will be worked out by the two Secretariats.