Qatar’s Crown Prince Shaikh Tameem Bin Hamad Al Thani (left) is greeted by Bahraini Crown Prince Salman Bin Hamad Al Khalifa ahead of the conference. Image Credit: Reuters

Manama: Gulf leaders are to start the 33rd annual Gulf Cooperation Council summit in the Bahraini capital today after foreign ministers of the six states met on Sunday to discuss economic integration, a diplomatic source said.

The meeting was held behind closed doors and focused on “the complementary nature of the six members”, whose overall GDP in 2011 amounted to $1.371 trillion (Dh5.03 trillion, the source said.

The GCC states — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, UAE and Saudi Arabia — have a joint population of around 46 million, the majority of whom are foreigners.

Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Shaikh Khalid Bin Ahmad Al Khalifa told Qatari daily Al Sharq that the summit would cover several areas including military cooperation, environmental protection and accelerating the steps leading to the economic unity. The situation in Syria will also be discussed.

The minister underlined that economic integration would receive great attention, and that the GCC countries must strive to form an integrated economic unit, which was the basis for the real unity in the future.

In 2003, the GCC launched a symbolic customs union which has been beset with problems, failing to meet its target date of 2005, with the transition period systematically extended.

And a monetary union announced in 2009 with the aim of creating a common currency has also failed to materialise, with just four nations (Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia) signing up to it.

The two-day Manama summit, set to begin on Monday afternoon, will also discuss other regional issues including the more than 21-month conflict in Syria, relations with Iran and the situation in Yemen, sources said.

However, four of the six heads of state will not attend the annual gathering.

King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz of Saudi Arabia is convalescing after a back operation in November, while Qatar is sending its crown prince, the United Arab Emirates its vice-president, and Oman its deputy prime minister.

Kuwait will be represented by its emir, Shaikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah.