|U.S. to negotiate trade pacts with U.A.E., Oman|
|Talks to be held early next year|
The Bush administration said Monday it will begin free trade negotiations with the United Arab Emirates and Oman as part of President George W. Bush's effort to promote economic growth in the Middle East.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, in a letter to congressional leaders, said the administration wanted to begin negotiations with both countries early next year to promote Bush's goal of creating a Middle East Free Trade Area with the United States.
"A free trade agreement with the U.A.E. and Oman will promote the president's initiative to advance economic reforms and openness in the Middle East and Persian Gulf," Zoellick's letter said.
The United States already has free trade agreements in the region with Israel, Jordan and Morocco and recently completed negotiations on a free trade deal with Bahrain, which has not yet been approved by Congress.
In all, the United States has free trade agreements in effect with eight countries - Canada, Mexico, Israel, Jordan, Chile, Singapore and, just this year, Australia and Morocco.
The administration also has negotiated a Central American Free Trade Agreement with six nations in that region, but the pact has not been voted on in Congress because of substantial opposition over what opponents contend are economic threats to American companies and workers from countries with lax labor and environmental standards.
Trade flows between the United States and the United Arab Emirates and Oman combined totalled $5.6 billion, with the United States having a $2 billion combined trade surplus with the two countries.
America's trading relationship with the United Arab Emirates is the third-largest in the Middle East behind Israel and Saudi Arabia.
The decision to start free trade negotiations came after last week's announcement that a U.S.-inspired forum for Middle Eastern political and economic reform is to be held in Morocco on Dec. 11.
The forum, entitled "Forum for the Future," would include the Group of Eight countries and Arab foreign and finance ministers.
Beirut,11 22 2004
The Daily Star