US, Emirates seen getting closer to free trade pact

Business Times (Singapore) | February 15, 2007

US, Emirates seen getting closer to free trade pact

(DUBAI) Stuttering free trade talks between the Emirates and the US have made some progress in the latest round of talks last week in London, the Emirates Ministry of Finance and Industry said.

The progress involved issues such as environment, e-commerce and copyright, according to a ministry statement released on Monday.

’The two sides have agreed to redouble efforts to resolve the outstanding issues, notably issues related to digital economy and other issues that are still impeding the smooth flow of trade,’ it also said.

However, major sticking points still obstruct a deal, including Washington’s insistence on improvement of labourers’ rights and the country’s overall human rights record.

Emirates’ negotiators have argued that circumstances here are different from those in nearby Bahrain and Oman, two other Gulf countries that have signed US trade pacts.

The Emirates is a federal state with seven semi-autonomous emirates. Its population is dominated by foreign workers, with Emirates citizens being a privileged minority in the country.

US trade negotiators have quickened their talks with the Emirates in hopes of inking an agreement and getting US Congressional approval before special trade promotion authority expires at the end of June. That authority provides for quicker passage through Congress.

The talks are part of a US drive to strike free trade deals with a number of countries in the Middle East as a prelude to US President George Bush’s ultimate goal of creating a free trade area throughout the region by 2013.

The Emirates is the US’ fourth-largest trading partner in the Middle East after Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iraq.

Elsewhere in the Mideast, the US has free trade agreements with Israel and Jordan.

Meanwhile, the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, of which the Emirates is a member, is nearing a free trade agreement with the European Union.

EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson is due in the region in a few weeks to discuss the proposed pact, a local newspaper reported on Tuesday. - AP

source: Business Times