Japan and Saudi Arabia agreed Thursday to begin negotiations on a free-trade agreement between Japan and the Gulf Cooperation Council, which consists of six major Middle East oil exporters, including Saudi Arabia.

The two sides will hold preliminary talks on the trade deal in late May in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, Japanese officials said.

The agreement to start the FTA talks was reached during Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah ibn Abd al-Aziz’s three-day visit to Japan, which is to wrap up Friday.

The crown prince and Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi welcomed the agreement in a joint statement issued after their meeting Thursday afternoon, saying, they hoped the agreement would “contribute to further strengthening the economic and business relations between Japan and Saudi Arabia, as well as between Japan and the GCC States as a whole.”

The GCC groups oil producers Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait.

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