(AFP, Amman) - A top Jordanian economic official said Monday that Amman hoped to reach a free trade agreement with the United States by September. "We have agreed with the American side to sign an accord at the end of August or the beginning of September so it can be brought before the US Congress by the end of the year," said Deputy Prime Minister Mohammed Halaykah, who is also Minister of State for Economic Affairs.
He was speaking before a meeting with US Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky, who is on a visit of several days to the kingdom to supervise the trade talks. The Jordanian and US economic experts will continue talks in August to eliminate all "lingering issues," most of them "of a technical nature," Halaykah said. An accord "will open the way for an increase in Jordanian exports to the United States, without any restrictions either through customs duty or through quotas ... and will encourage American businessmen to invest in Jordan," he said.
The free trade talks were launched in early June after an agreement in Washington by King Abdullah II and President Bill Clinton. For her part, Barshefsky stressed that a free-trade agreement was not something Washington "enters lightly." "The US-Jordan agreement will be only the fourth we have signed with any country," she said. "Our negotiations this week thus show the importance we attach to our relationship with Jordan, and our confidence in the economic policies Jordan has implemented in the past two years."
Barshefsky said the agreement would help Jordan develop high-tech industry and ensure "that Jordan is seen as a center for commerce and investment in the Middle East."
According to the Jordanian government, the kingdom's exports to the United States amounted to only 13 million dollars last year, compared with $360 million worth of Jordanian imports from the United States.
Jordan is the fourth largest recipient of US aid, which over the past three years has totalled nearly $ one billion in economic and military assistance. Amman, faced with a $ seven billion foreign debt and a 25-percent unemployment rate, launched a major economic liberalization program at the end of 1998.
© Agence France Presse 2000
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )