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DUBAI: The United Arab Emirates plans to begin talks with Australia about a trade agreement, officials from the two countries said on Thursday, as the oil-rich Gulf nation seeks to bolster its role as a Middle East business hub.

A bilateral free trade agreement of this sort would be the first for Australia in the Middle East, Australia’s Trade Minister Dan Tehan said in a statement on his official website, adding that the UAE is his country’s largest trade and investment partner in the region.

“We are moving quickly to boost bilateral trade with our global allies as we embrace a fast-changing world,” UAE Minister of State for Foreign Trade Thani Al Zeyoudi said on Twitter.

In 2020, bilateral trade stood at $6.8 billion and two-way investments at $16 billion.

A Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with the UAE would be “an important building block to a subsequent potential free trade agreement with the wider Gulf Cooperation Council,” Tehan said, referring to a six member oil-rich group that also gathers Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.

The UAE signed a CEPA with India, its second largest trade partner, in February, and officials expects to finalise soon bilateral negotiations with Israel and Indonesia.

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