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French Version

Egypt extends deadline for U.S. free trade deal

Egypt is extending by one week a deadline for companies to apply for inclusion in a partial free trade deal with the United States, Foreign Trade and Industry Minister Rachid Mohamed Rachid said on Monday.

The original deadline expired on Monday. By then, 420 companies and factories had applied to be included, Egypt's official Middle East News Agency (MENA) quoted Rachid saying.

Under the Qualified Industrial Zones (QIZ) agreement signed in December, Egypt can export goods to the United States without duty or quota restrictions provided they come from seven selected zones and contain at least 11.7 percent Israeli input.

Public, private and foreign firms manufacturing in the zones are eligible to participate. Rachid said 45 companies had their applications turned down because they were located outside the designated zones.

He has said the government will assist firms outside the zones, and that he is confident the United States will allow it to expand the deal to cover more areas.

The present seven zones have 231 factories exporting $304 million worth of goods to the U.S market, Rachid has said. Egypt's exports to the U.S. market are now worth about $600 million a year.

Rachid has previously said exports to the United States could triple in a few years.

Some Egyptians oppose the deal, saying it is not right to improve economic ties with neighboring Israel while it continues with military operations in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The first QIZs were established in Jordan and led to sharp increases in exports to the U.S.

Thirteen QIZs have been established in Jordan since 1999 and exports to the United States have grown from $31 million in 1999 to $674 million in 2003, according to the United States trade representative.

Jordan also estimates that QIZs have created 35,000 jobs. Investment in Jordan's QIZs is between $85 million to $100 million and is expected to grow between $180 million to $200 million.

The United States hopes that these agreements will foster greater regional economic integration and thus further the Middle East peace process.

Cairo,02 21 2005
The Daily Star
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