US official: “Moment must be seized for Mideast trade”

Published June 24th, 2003 - 02:00 GMT

US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said on Monday, June 23, 2003, that the moment must be seized to build up a free trade network across the Middle East to boost development and job creation if the region is to move firmly into the mainstream of the global economy. 


Speaking at a news conference at the World Economic Forum’s Extraordinary Annual Meeting, he promised that the United States will give active support to “peaceful countries” in the area who are still outside the World Trade Organization (WTO) to get into the 146-member body which sets the rules for global commerce and is the forum for trade negotiations.  


”This is a region that has fallen seriously behind in global trade, and in inward investment flows,” he said. “President Bush’s proposed Free Trade Initiative for the Middle East offers the way out of the situation. We see this as an opportunity, and the moment has to be seized by the people here.” 


Zoellick was speaking after talks with senior ministers attending the Meeting from countries across the Arab region to discuss Bush’s proposals. A joint statement on the discussions read by Jordan’s Foreign Minister Marwan Jamil Muasher said all participants agree on the value of the US President’s ideas and express the hope that the dialogue begun today will continue in the near future.  


”We want peace in this region and we know that without economic development the people will not get that peace,” US Secretary of State Colin Powell told the news conference. What the US wants to see is a much stronger flow of foreign investment into the area that would help build up infrastructure, create high-value jobs for young people, a breakdown of present trade barriers and the creation of a trading system with strong rules. 


Zoellick said the Bush ideas are aimed at building hope in the area for a better future, and held up the two-year-old US-Jordan Free Trade Agreement as an example of the progress freer trade can bring. Muasher agreed, saying the Agreement has brought huge benefits to his country, boosting its trade with the US from around $20 million a year in 1999 to a projected $500 million this year. Towards the end of last year, the US became Jordan’s biggest trading partner and thousands of new jobs have been created. 


Current negotiations with Morocco for a Free Trade Agreement similar to that with Jordan are in their final stages and may be completed this year, Zoellick told the news conference. Negotiations with Bahrain are likely to begin next year. Once these have been set up, other countries could be linked up with them. “The ultimate goal is to draw them into a Middle East Free Trade area,” he said. But this also has to be part of the global trading system managed by the WTO.  


Presently, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Yemen are negotiating at the WTO for membership, and Zoellick said he hopes that a new round of talks between Saudi Arabia and WTO countries in Geneva next week will move that country closer to joining. Iraq could also be brought eventually into the WTO, if its people want to join. 


Zoellick said other key elements of the Bush plan are trade and investment framework agreements and bilateral investment treaties. “Capital is a coward, and it doesn’t go where it is afraid. If countries want to attract investors, they have to make sure those investors are fairly treated.” — ( 

© 2003 Mena Report (

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