Three prominent US senators back Washington's Middle East trade policies
Three prominent US senators have lent their voices in support of the Bush administration's policies to increase trade and bolster reforms in the Middle East.
The Middle East is "a vibrant and vast region full of promises," Senate Finance Committee Chairman and Republican Charles Grassley said, opening a March 10 committee hearing on US Trade and Economic Policy in the Middle East.
For the region to fully thrive, "we need stronger economic engagement between the United States and like-minded nations there in the Middle East," Grassley said.
Grassley said he supports the Bush administration's policy of pressing for the creation of a Middle East Free Trade Area by 2013, and he praised the administration for its work in negotiating free trade agreements with Jordan, Morocco and Bahrain.
The Jordanian agreement went into effect in 2001; the agreement with Morocco was signed in early 2004 and is expected to go before the US Senate for ratification soon. Free trade negotiations with Bahrain began in January and are proceeding at such a rapid pace that a final agreement could be reached by June, US trade officials have said.
"With his call for a Middle East free trade area, the president correctly recognizes that increased US trade with and among Middle Eastern countries will foster long-term economic growth," Grassley said. "Just as important, trade agreements entered into by the Middle Eastern countries would lead to, and in some cases lock in, needed political reforms."
Grassley was joined by two other senators, Montana Democrat Max Baucus and Arizona Republican John McCain, who have sponsored the Baucus-McCain bill, also known as the Silk Road bill.
The Silk Road bill would allow Middle Eastern and predominately Muslim countries in South Asia to export a number of products to the United States duty-free provided that they meet U.S. conditions such as supporting the war against terror and reforming their economies, Baucus said.
"A trade preference program like the one we are proposing will help countries in the Middle East now, in the short term," Baucus said. "It will help prepare Middle Eastern economies to enter into the free trade agreements with the United States that is the cornerstone of the Middle East trade policy."
Baucus said the Silk Road bill would strengthen the administration's policy of creating a Middle East Free Trade Area by helping countries reform and develop their economies to the point where a free trade agreement with the United States becomes a realistic option.
McCain said closed markets have contributed to the political tensions that beset many Arab and Muslim countries, which face tremendous population growth and an average unemployment rate of about 22 percent. He called the situation "an obvious recipe for disaster." — (menareport.com)
© 2004 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)