Kuwaiti First Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Khaled Al-Hamad Al-Sabah said Friday China was a strategic partner for the GCC countries, calling for the resumption of negotiations to establish a free trade zone. Sheikh Sabah was addressing the opening session of the Third Strategic Dialogue between the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and China, saying that trade exchange between the two sides was of significant importance. Kuwait holds the rotating presidency of the GCC. He said the trade exchange surged from USD nine billion in 2002 to around USD 150 billion in 2012. "The rapid growth of trade exchange between the Republic of China and the GCC countries stemmed from the integration between the two sides, bearing in mind that the GCC countries are the major energy exporter to China primarily oil and gas." Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled hoped today's dialogue would be an opportunity to discuss the resumption of negotiations aimed at signing a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), which would pave way for the establishment of the free trade zone. He noted that the framework agreement of economic cooperation that was signed between the GCC and China in July 2004 triggered the FTA negotiations, which resulted in a number of negotiating rounds since April 2005. The GCC, said Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled, considered China "a perfect strategic partner" and pinned high hopes on its "political positions that support stability and cooperation in the regional countries." He said China has an influential political role at the international level, namely through its permenent membership in the UN Security Concil (UNSC). "We are confident our Chinese friends share with us the importance of finding just and fair solutions for the pressing issues in the Middle East, and to achieve sustainable peace, security and stability via the resolution of problems through peaceful dialogue and consultation," said the senior Kuwaiti official. Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled said the GCC countries were looking forward that the strategic dialogue pave way for an "honest and direct dialogue" that would serve mutual interest. "We are greatly content with the progress we have achieved in the implementation of the joint program of action to push forward cooperation between us," he said. He underscored that the mechanism of the strategic dialogue would further boost bilateral relations and cooperation over political matters, regional and international affairs of common interest. The dialogue, added Sheikh Sabah Al-Khaled, would also strengthen relations in fields of trade, investment, energy, culture, education, scientific research, environment and health.