US Senate passes Jordan trade bill
The Senate on Monday, September 24, approved a landmark US-Jordan free trade pact, which is seen as a significant economic boost for a key US ally and expected to serve as a model for Washington's future commerce deals with other nations.
The agreement, negotiated under former president Bill Clinton, was approved by voice vote, despite objections from several senators over some environmental and labor provisions. It had passed the lower House of Representatives in late July.
The deal eliminates all tariffs on two-way trade in goods and services over a 10-year period, an arrangement the United States currently has with only three other countries: Canada, Mexico and Israel.
President George W. Bush, who is expecting a visit by Jordan's King Abdullah II later this week, welcomed the agreement as "a strong signal to Jordan as well as other countries in the region, that support for peace and economic reform yields concrete benefits."
The Jordanian ruler, who strongly condemned the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington earlier this month, is to arrive in Washington Wednesday, and meet with Bush Friday.
"I commend the Congress for advancing trade and relations with Jordan, a valued friend and partner. The US-Jordan Free Trade Agreement will promote peace and security in the region, while creating jobs and new investment opportunities in both countries," Bush said in a statement.
Senator Max Baucus, senior Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, argued that passage of the deal would be an important boost for Jordan, as the United States mounts a war against terrorism following attacks on New York and the Pentagon two weeks ago.
"Getting the United States-Jordan agreement off the ground would be essential even if we were not currently mobilizing support for a global campaign against terrorism," he said. "The agreement represents an important expression of American support for a key partner in the Middle East as well as a model for a progressive free trade agreement."
The US-Jordan pact is seen as a blueprint for future US free trade pacts, but that worries some Republican senators, as it is the first such deal to carry specific labor and environmental guarantees.
The measure allows each side to monitor the other's environmental and labor practices and, with approval from a dispute panel drawn from both sides, impose sanctions if the trade partner is seen gaining a commercial advantage by lowering standards.
Senator Phil Gramm, a Republican from Texas, argued that such a panel could dilute US sovereignty by preventing Congress from changing US laws — authorizing the opening of nature reserves for oil exploration, for instance.
But Baucus discounted Gramm's argument. "Some have charged that the labor and environmental provisions in the Jordan agreement encroach on the sovereignty of the United States. The charge is plainly wrong."
The pact requires President George W. Bush's signature before it becomes law. In his statement Bush said he looked forward to signing it. ― (AFP, Washington)
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)