By Shivangi Acharya
NEW DELHI (Reuters) -India and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) have agreed to resume talks on a free trade agreement, India's Trade Minister Piyush Goyal said on Thursday, as his nation seeks closer ties with one of its largest trading partners.
The GCC is a union of six countries in the Gulf region including Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar, Kuwait, Oman, and Bahrain.
These talks mark the third such attempt by India and the GCC to ink a trade pact, with negotiations previously held in 2006 and 2008.
Mutually agreed areas of focus in the talks would be food security, energy security and technology transfers, among others, said GCC Secretary General Nayef Falah M. Al-Hajraf.
"The FTA will be a comprehensive economic partnership that will cover different aspects of trade and will also look at certain aspects related to investment promotion," Goyal said, adding the two sides hoped to strike a deal "at the earliest" opportunity.
Bilateral talks will be held on a trade mechanism involving the Indian rupee and local Gulf currencies, the minister added.
The GCC is India's largest trading partner, Goyal said, with bilateral merchandise trade in 2021-22 standing at $154 billion and services trade at $14 billion.
"GCC countries contribute almost 35% of India's oil imports and 70% of gas imports," he said.
Earlier this year, India signed a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with the UAE to help Indian exporters tap into the Gulf Arab state - which acts as a trading hub - for further access into markets in Africa and Europe.
(Reporting by Shivangi Acharya in New Delhi, writing by Shivam Patel, Editing by Alex Richardson and Gareth Jones)