US ’Big Brother’ attitude in FTAs draws criticism

Bahrain Tribune

US ’Big Brother’ attitude in FTAs draws criticism

11 November 2005

Arabs attending a conference in Bahrain blasted yesterday Washington’s "Big Brother" attitude in bilateral Free Trade Agreements, saying they are political tools to serve US interests rather than enhance economic prosperity in the region.

"FTAs are not the ultimate solution for this region ... I see FTAs as a catalyst for change and reform rather than promoting trade," said Egypt’s minister of foreign trade and industry, Rashid Rashid.

"FTAs are creating a negative environment. It is a waste of time to think that we (Arabs) will achieve economic integration through the United States," Rashid told a panel during the Arab Business Council (ABC) annual meeting.

"The United States will not be the gateway for regional economic integration," he said.

Rashid’s comments came in response to Robert Lawrence, professor of trade and investment at Harvard University, who had earlier told the panel that FTAs between Washington and Arabs will help integrate Arab economies.

"If Arab countries can integrate with the United States (through FTAs), it will be easy for them to integrate with each other," Lawrence said.

Although he acknowledged that the "US motives of these agreements are fundamentally political," Lawrence said "but they have to deliver economically in order to be effective."

Arabs can reap the fruits of FTAs if they use them "to open up their economies and accelerate domestic reforms," Lawrence said.

Washington has already signed FTAs with Jordan, Morocco and Bahrain and is negotiating similar accords with Oman and the UAE.

The FTAs are part of plans by US President George W. Bush to create a Middle East free trade area by 2013.

Sharif Al Zubi, minister of industry and trade of Jordan, ridiculed the idea of implementing Arab integration through accords with the US.

"I really fail to understand the logic that if you want to do Arab integration, you have to go to the US," he said.

Arif Naqvi, vice chairman and chief executive officer of Abraaj Capital, UAE, was more blunt in his criticism of FTAs.

"To me, it looks as a ’Big Brother’ attitude ... a tool of US foreign policy," to promote US interests, he said.

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