Countries that do not share the same views on climate control or preserving natural resources should concentrate on what each can do best and trade the results of their specialisations.

Integrating with one another via a customs union, a projected common market and an envisaged — yet stalled — monetary union is a pointer that the member-states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) recognise as economic shifts and geopolitical realignments.

With the world’s immense hydrocarbon reserves depleting, the post-oil development strategies of the GCC are geared to accomplishing diversification, acquiring competitiveness in oil and non-oil reliant industries, and guaranteeing food security at affordable prices.

Moving to light, import substitution/export-oriented manufacturing in addition to maintaining the competitiveness of its energy-reliant heavy industries is a challenge for, predominantly, smaller states with limited natural resources and few comparative advantages.

Dual energy pricing — selling petroleum products domestically at prices significantly lower than in the international market — as such, enables GCC states to use their vast oil and natural gas reserves to promote oil and gas reliant industrialisation.

Local sponsorship allows GCC states to develop their economic bases by creating economic opportunities and jobs for their fast-growing populations. All GCC states have acquired membership to the multilateral World Trade Organisation, in addition to having bilateral trade deals with interested parties.

Embarking on genuine free trade means moving away from subsidisation and patronage of the economy, factors the GCC states need to consider carefully.

Realising that profitable onshore/offshore oilfields will dry up at some point has led to GCC states becoming more concerned over the possible implications of free trade deals.

On their part, potential bilateral free trade partners such as the European Union (EU) have expressed their concerns over the cap on foreign ownership. Some GCC states, accordingly, have created special free zones and allowed ministries rather than locals to serve as sponsors. But others are less willing to follow suit given the benefits sponsorship brings to many locals.

Allocating oil-reliant industries with cheap energy should be seen as one of the few tools to create or to enhance the global competitiveness of GCC companies.

Major consumers in their own right, they recognise energy security as becoming more important to generate development and sustainable growth.

Indeed, with the EU import tariff for GCC aviation fuel set at zero — instead of the 4.6 per cent announced in late 2013 — the two blocs now have to find common ground for a decisive decision on export duties, reportedly, the last remaining issue for a free trade deal to pass.

The EU, in line with its trade policy towards external trading partners, seems to be against the imposition of export duties. This makes the outstanding issue into a question of how far an EU-GCC free trade deal will be able to restrict the freedom to use trade measures in the future.

The EU seems to have softened its initial position on export duties — by agreeing to allow them to be used up to a certain proportion. As such, a number of the GCC states appear keen on the right to maintain the possibility to levy export duties on goods brought on by unexpected price fluctuations in the export markets or sudden shortages domestically.

Both blocs should start focusing on the existing realities. They have invested a lot of time and resources into a potential trade deal. The reality, however, is that yet another year has elapsed since negotiations were suspended — and a GCC-EU free trade agreement remains an open-ended question.

— The writer is an analyst on GCC-EU relations based in Brussels.