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Congress vote on Oman-US FTA likely in late spring

Times of Oman

Congress vote on Oman-US FTA likely in late spring

By Palazhi Ashok Kumar

Our Special Correspondent

8 March 2006

MUSCAT - The office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) yesterday signalled that a vote in Congress on the Oman-US Free-Trade Agreement (FTA) might be scheduled for late spring.

USTR is part of the executive office of the US president.

“We hope that Congress will vote on our FTA with Oman in late spring, but the timing is at their discretion,” a senior official at the Office of the USTR told the Times of Oman.

“Ambassador Susan C. Schwab, deputy USTR, has discussed the Oman-US FTA with the US Senate Finance Committee. It’s a high-quality, comprehensive free-trade agreement that will contribute to economic growth and trade between both the countries.

“The FTA will also provide Oman with valuable access to US markets in agriculture, textiles and industrial and consumer products. Furthermore, it will yield greater US investment in Oman,” Christin Tinsworth Baker from the USTR office told the Times.

Oman’s accession to WTO in 2000 and the July 2004 US-Oman bilateral trade and investment framework agreement paved the way for a robust economic dialogue on promoting closer economic ties, freer trade, greater openness, a stronger investment climate, and economic reforms.

Once implemented, the state-of-the-art FTA accord, signed on January 19, 2006, by USTR Rob Portman and Oman’s Minister of Commerce and Industry Maqbool bin Ali Sultan will eliminate tariffs and barriers and expand trade between both the countries.

The US and Oman had a two-way trade relationship of over $1 billion in 2005 - up a quarter of a million from 2004. With this agreement, the Omani-US relationship will grow as new opportunities become available for the people of both the countries. The US goods exports to Oman in 2004 totalled $330 million, including machinery, automobiles, optic and medical instruments, and electrical machinery. The US exports of agricultural products to Oman in 2004 totalled $20 million, including vegetable oils, and sugars, sweeteners, and beverage bases. The stock of US foreign direct investment in Oman in 2003 was $358 million. Oman is the fifth Middle Eastern country to have negotiated an FTA with the US, and advances the US president’s vision for a Middle East free-trade area. The FTA will also help promote more political and economic freedom in other countries in the Middle East. Oman and the US began talks last spring and concluded them by October of last year. “The FTA is a sign of Oman’s enthusiasm for open trade and free markets. We welcome that spirit and we are pleased to have Oman as a partner in our efforts to raise living standards and promote peace through trade,” Ambassador Portman, USTR had said. On the first day it is in force, 100 per cent of bilateral trade in industrial goods will flow duty-free. In addition, Oman will provide immediate duty-free access for 87 per cent of agricultural products. This will mean new opportunities for US companies that produce machinery, automobiles, optical and medical instruments. And it will mean new opportunities for US producers of vegetable oils, sugars and sweeteners for beverages.

In the area of services, which is constantly growing in importance, the agreement will provide new opportunities for US companies that provide banking and securities products and firms that provide services in telecommunication, express delivery, distribution, healthcare, construction, architecture and engineering.

American trade policy works towards opening markets throughout the world to create new opportunities and higher living standards for families, farmers, manufacturers, workers, consumers, and businesses. The FTA will ensure a secure and predictable legal and regulatory environment in Oman that foreign investors want to see in 21st century commerce. Oman will also provide effective enforcement of labour and intellectual property laws. It will help make Oman a more attractive market for investors and create new opportunities for the Omani people. The FTA with Oman builds on the existing agreements of the US with Israel, Jordan, Morocco and Bahrain. “For decades, Oman and the US have shared a desire for peace, stability and economic opportunity in the Middle East. The US government had announced that the goal was to work towards a Middle East Free Trade Area by 2013. The US has been seeking comprehensive free-trade agreements with the Middle Eastern nations most firmly on the path to reform,” official sources added.