US Senate okays FTA with Oman

Times of Oman

US Senate okays FTA with Oman

By Mark Drajem

Bloomberg News

1 July 2006

NEW YORK - The US Senate has approved the Oman Free Trade Agreement, leaving one final battle in the House of Representatives before the accord can be implemented.

The Senate voted 60-34 for the trade agreement, which would eliminate tariffs and other barriers to trade and investment between the US and Oman, which traded roughly $1.2 billion worth of goods with each other last year.

US Trade Representative Susan Schwab hailed the move by the Senate.

“The United States will gain much from this new economic partnership,” she said. “The agreement will create jobs and economic growth here at home and promote democracy, prosperity, and hope in the Middle East.”

Once the pact receives final approval and is implemented, Schwab said, “100 per cent of consumer and industrial products will be duty free.”

“This new trade opening will expand opportunities for exports of machinery, automobiles, optic and medical instruments and electrical machinery, and agricultural products such as vegetable oils, and sugars, sweeteners, and beverage bases,” the official said.

“In addition, Oman will provide substantial market access across its entire services regime, provide a secure, predictable legal framework for US investors operating in Oman, provide for effective enforcement of labour and environmental laws, and protect intellectual property.”

The free trade agreement with Oman is part of an effort by Washington to create a Middle East Free Trade Area (MEFTA) by 2013, building on existing agreements with Israel, Jordan, Morocco and Bahrain.

The trade benefits “are important in and of themselves, but this also has great strategic importance,” said Calman Cohen, president of the Washington-based Emergency Committee for American Trade, which represents the largest US exporters. The House is set to vote on the Oman legislation next month, in light of a committee meeting earlier yesterday. Passage in the House is likely as Republicans hold a 231 to 201 majority over Democrats there, with one independent. The House Ways and Means Committee yesterday approved the legislation with 23 lawmakers voting in favour of the measure, all of whom were Republican, and 15 members against the measure, all Democrats.

Many Democrats have lamented that the Bush administration refuses to cater to their demands that labour-rights and other provisions be written into US trade accords, citing examples such as last year’s Central American Free Trade Agreement.

Representative John Tanner, a Tennessee Democrat, was one of only 15 Democrats to vote for the Central American deal. “I’ve grown frustrated,” he said. “The lack of dialogue over these trade measures renders consensus out of reach.”

The political significance of strengthening ties with the Sultanate should outweigh objections, Republicans say.