No date set for next round of UAE-US free trade talks

Gulf News 05/11/2006 (UAE)

No date set for next round of UAE-US free trade talks

By Ahmad Ameen, Staff Reporter

Abu Dhabi: The fifth round of free trade negotiations between the UAE and the United States ended in Abu Dhabi yesterday without agreement, although a UAE government official termed the two-day talks "positive".

The closely guarded negotiations, held amid a virtual media blackout, centred around two core issues investment and labour laws. The parties failed to agree on a date for the sixth round.

"This round of talks was not on a senior level, and both parties have agreed not to give any statements for the time being as the nature of the negotiations was not formal," an official source told Gulf News yesterday.

Abdullah Al Saleh, undersecretary in the Ministry of Economy, said, "The talks were positive, and we discussed issues related to investment, as well as the services sector."

He refused to comment on whether the negotiations tackled the UAE agencies law and labour issues.

Both parties seem to have a lot on the table, as the UAE is likely to seek compensation for the manner in which the United States handled Dubai Ports World’s acquisition of P&O, which entailed the management of six American ports, since the management of ports is included in the WTO framework of liberalisation of services.

Another concern for the UAE is the US pressure regarding the amendment or abolishment of the agencies law, a move which is regarded as negatively affecting the local business community.

Similarly, the Americans seem to be concerned about the conditions of foreign labour despite the UAE’s denial of widely published reports.

The trade talks were launched in March last year with the purpose of concluding a free trade agreement within the framework of the US plan to set up a Middle East free trade zone.

According to Al Saleh, the two parties agreed to meet again, leaving the date to be set at a later stage.

The Pan-Arab Al Hayat newspaper quoted a source yesterday as saying the US has made a deal "contingent on amending the labour law in the UAE and establishing labour organisations."

The package of agreements, which require US Congressional approval, are largely economic, but also include a major section on labour rights.

They would require each party to recognise the right of association and collective bargaining, prohibit forced labour and respect minimum wages and caps on working hours.

Al Hayat also said the UAE is resisting US pressure to open the country to US investment without the requirement of having a local partner, "especially in the field of oil and gas".

Abu Dhabi is reportedly also baulking at US demands for full rights to property ownership for US citizens.

source: Gulf News