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U.S., Oman Complete Talks on Bilateral Free-Trade

U.S., Oman Complete Talks on Bilateral Free-Trade Agreement

Agreement will eliminate tariffs, encourage investment, USTR Portman says

By Todd Bullock
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington -- The United States and Oman have successfully completed negotiations on a free-trade agreement (FTA) designed to eliminate tariffs and other trade barriers and to expand trade between the two countries.

"This is a high-quality, comprehensive free trade agreement that will contribute to economic growth and trade between both countries," U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Rob Portman said at an October 3 joint press conference with Omani Minister of Commerce Maqbool Ali Sultan, who participated via digital teleconference from Oman.

The agreement will now undergo review by both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives under a procedure known as Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), or "fast track."

Oman is the fifth Middle Eastern country to have negotiated an FTA with the United States. The United States has already completed negotiations for FTAs with Israel, Bahrain, Jordan and Morocco and plans to initiate FTA negotiations with the United Arab Emirates. Congress has approved the FTAs with Israel, Jordan and Morocco. The Bahrain pact awaits congressional action, possibly later in 2005.

The United States also has bilateral Trade and Investment Framework Agreements (TIFA) with Tunisia, Qatar, Algeria, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the United Arab Emirates. TIFAs establish mechanisms to address bilateral commercial issues and are often a first step toward negotiating FTAs.

Under its FTA with the United States, Oman would eliminate tariffs on U.S. products, provide substantial market access for U.S. investors, and provide for "effective enforcement of labor, environmental laws and intellectual property rights," Portman said.

Two-way trade in goods between the United States and Oman totaled $748 million in 2004, and U.S. foreign direct investment in 2003 in Oman was $358 million, according to a USTR fact sheet.

The FTA with Oman is part of a broader Bush administration goal to expand trade and investment for Middle Eastern nations, the USTR said.

In May 2003, the Bush administration proposed a plan of graduated steps for Middle Eastern nations to increase trade and investment with the United States and others in the world economy.

Portman said the first goal was to work closely with peaceful nations desiring to become members of the World Trade Organization "in order to expedite their [WTO] accession."

As these countries implement domestic reform agendas and create a foundation for openness and economic growth, the United States takes a series of graduated steps with these countries tailored to their individual level of development, he continued.

"These are important steps on the path to implementing President Bush's initiative to create a U.S.-Middle East Free Trade Area by 2013," Portman said, "Our efforts will advance economic growth and democracy in the Middle East - an area of almost 350 million people and a $70 billion trading relationship with the United States."

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