Jordanian Prime Minister Ali Abu Ragheb on Monday said his country will hold talks with Iraq to set up a free trade zone between the two countries.
Trade and Industry Minister Wassef Azar will lead the talks in Baghdad next week, Abu Ragheb told the 40-member House of Notables, or Senate, in a statement broadcast live on state television.
"The trade and industry minister will lead a delegation of 150 industrialists, merchants and businessman to Iraq next week to activate the trade protocol that has been signed between Iraq and Jordan," Abu Ragheb said.
"The minister will also discuss and implement, inshallah (God willing), an agreement for a free trade zone with Iraq," Abu Ragheb added.
His remarks came as Iraqi Vice-President Taha Yassin Ramadan began a groundbreaking two-day visit to Damascus Monday, aimed at setting up a free trade zone between Iraq and Syria. The agreement will be the second, following one signed between Iraq and Egypt on January 18.
On Friday Iraqi Commerce Minister Mohammed Mehdi Saleh called on Jordan, Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates to follow suit.
"We welcome, without exception, all Arab countries entering the free trade accord signed between Iraq and Egypt and which will be concluded between Iraq and Syria," Saleh told the Qatari satellite television network Al-Jazeera.
The accord signed with Egypt, like the one to be signed with Syria, calls for an end to all customs barriers between the two countries. They are widely seen as a further sign of the erosion of the strict UN sanctions imposed on Iraq after its invasion of Kuwait in 1990.
Jordan and Iraq are already bound by a multi-million dollar oil and trade protocol for the year 2001. The deal was signed in November in Baghdad during a visit to Iraq by Abu Ragheb.
Under the agreement Iraq provides Jordan with five million tons of Iraqi oil, half of it free and the other half at a preferential rate, while Amman will export to Baghdad $400 million worth of goods.
Iraq was the main Arab market for Jordanian exports before the 1991 Gulf war. Relations between the two neighboring countries were bolstered when Jordan sent a humanitarian plane to Baghdad, becoming the first Arab country to defy a 10-year-old UN air ban imposed on Iraq. In November Abu Ragheb was the first Arab head of government to fly to Iraq in a decade. — (AFP, Amman)
© Agence France Presse 2001
© 2001 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )