US trade pact gives '\'political, economic'\' boost to Jordan
A US-Jordan free trade pact passed by the US Senate on the eve of a Washington visit by Jordan's King Abdullah II gives a strong "political and economic" boost to Amman, officials and analysts said Tuesday, September 25.
"The timing of this decision is definitely related to the present situation and is another sign that the United States is looking positively towards Jordan and want that to be known," veteran analyst Fahed Fanek told AFP.
Fanek said he expected the king to now seek from Washington "more financial aid such as arming our army free of charge and support for Jordan in the present volatile situation in the Middle East".
The agreement was approved Monday by the US Senate, two months after it had passed the lower House of Representatives, by voice vote despite objections from several senators over some environmental and labor provisions.
It comes almost a year after it was signed by King Abdullah and former US president Bill Clinton at a time when Clinton's administration was furiously trying to forge a Middle East peace accord.
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.
US President George W. Bush, who meets King Abdullah on Friday, welcomed the accord as "a strong signal to Jordan as well as other countries in the region, that support for peace and economic reform, yields concrete benefits. 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 Monday.
Jordan's ambassador to Washington Marwan Muashir hailed the agreement as a "major breakthrough for Jordan and a strong political message of support", Amman newspapers reported Tuesday. "The agreement will contribute to revive the Jordanian economy by helping to lessen unemployment, increase the volume of foreign investments, as well as bolster and improve the quality of exports," Muashir said.
The pro-government Jordanian daily Al-RaiM meanwhile reported that the agreement "is an indication of Washington's new policies in the wake of the terror attacks that targeted New York and Washington on September 11".
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 the attacks.
"Getting the United States-Jordan agreement off the ground would be essential even if we were not currently mobilising support for a global campaign against terrorism," Baucus 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," he added.
Jordanian Deputy Prime Minister for Economic Affairs Muhammad Halayka told the official Petra news agency that the pact "will strengthen Jordan's role on the international investment map."
Halayka, the architect behind Jordan's acceptance in the World Trade Organization in April 2000, said it was now up to the private sector to reap the benefits of the agreement. US-Jordan trade stood at around a mere $400 million last year.
Jordan, a key US Arab ally, receives annual economic aid from the United States of $150 million and military assistance estimated at between $50 and $70 million. The kingdom, faced with a seven-billion-dollar foreign debt and around 25 percent unemployment, launched a major economic liberalization program at the end of 1998. ― (AFP, Amman)
by Hala Boncompagni
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com)