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After the GCC States have agreed to implement a Common External Tariff (CET), set a deadline for the launch of the Customs Union and affirmed the desire to behave as a single group with a view to fostering cooperation ties with other Arab countries, which represent the strategic depth of the GCC States vis-à-vis the international blocs, the Ministerial Council (78th session, March 2001), based on the recommendation of the Financial and Economic Cooperation Committee, agreed, in principle, on concluding direct negotiations between the GCC States and the major Arab trading partners leading to reciprocal tariff exemption of all goods and elimination of tariff and non-tariff barriers and other taxes of similar effect.
In implementation of the above, all GCC States signed Greater Arab Free Trade Area agreement (GAFTA), which entered into force in 2005. In addition, another agreement was signed in 2004 establishing a free trade area between the GCC and the Republic of Lebanon; another similar agreement was also signed in initials with the Republic of Syria which has not been signed till now. In addition, contacts are currently underway between the GCC and a number of other Arab countries for developing an appropriate mechanism for enhancing and developing economic cooperation.