Bush Calls for US-Middle East FTA
Secretary of State Powell and USTR Zoellick are scheduled to meet with regional leaders in Jordan next month.
WASHINGTON, DC - President Bush has outlined a plan to create a US-Middle East free trade area within ten years, saying that, in an age of global terror and weapons of mass destruction, "what happens in the Middle East greatly matters to America."
The United States will use its "influence and idealism to replace old hatreds with new hopes across the Middle East," Bush said in a May 9 commencement address at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, where he was awarded an honorary degree.
The US, he said "is working with governments and reformers throughout the Middle East. We are strengthening ties through our Middle East partnership initiative." Secretary of State Colin Powell and Trade Representative Bob Zoellick, he said, will meet with regional leaders in Jordan in June to discuss an agenda of economic
and political and social progress.
"Progress will require increased trade, the engine of economic development," Bush said.
"Making the most of economic opportunities will require broader and better education, especially among women who have faced the greatest disadvantages," he said. "We will work to improve literacy among girls and women building on similar efforts in Afghanistan, and Morocco, and Yemen," Bush said.
In outlining his proposal, the President focused on several specific goals beginning with the creation of the US-Middle East Free Trade Area within a decade.
Building on the existing free trade agreements (FTAs) with Israel and Jordan, Bush said the US will take a series of graduated steps including the assisting in the reform efforts of countries in the region to speed their accession to the World Trade Organization; the negotiation of bilateral investment treaties and trade and investment framework agreements with governments determined to improve their trade and investment regimes; and the completion of negotiations on a free trade agreement with Morocco by the end of this year.
Also, on the list are of priorities are the launching, in consultation with Congress, of new bilateral free trade agreements with governments committed to "high standards and comprehensive "trade liberalization; and providing assistance to build trade capacity and expansion "so countries can benefit from integration into the global trading system."
In addition, the President said, the US will propose the establishment of a Middle East finance facility to help small- and medium-sized businesses gain access to capital and generate jobs; reform commercial codes, improve the climate for trade and investment, and strengthen property rights through a new initiative for commercial law in cooperation with US and Middle Eastern law schools and jurists, and business-to-business contacts; and promote transparency in public finances, help countries fight corruption, and support financial sector reforms based on international best practices.
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