Egypt’s Nazif optimistic on free trade pact with US
18 May 2005
WASHINGTON - Egypt and the United States want to negotiate a free trade agreement but haven’t decided when to begin, Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif said on Tuesday after talks with US officials.
“We’ll be meeting with President Bush tomorrow. We’re hoping to come up with some view as ... to how we would go about an FTA (free trade agreement)” in the future, Nazif said at the Institute for International Economics (IIE).
The IIE released a study that said a comprehensive free trade pact between the two countries could boost the output of Egypt’s economy by three percent.
The United States would benefit far less economically, but could reap big gains from better relations with an Arab state that is a political, economic and cultural role model for the Middle East, said Robert Lawrence, co-author of the IIE report.
The institute’s president, Fred Bergsten, said he expected the United States to announce by year end that it was beginning free trade talks with Egypt, which has pushing for negotiations to start since early in President George W. Bush’s first term.
Cairo damaged its chances a few years ago after it backed out of a US-led trade case against the European Union over policies blocking imports of genetically-modified crops.
While that issue seems to have faded, the Bush administration is now in the middle of a tough battle in Congress to win approval of free trade agreement with Central America. The massive US trade deficit, especially with China, has also soured some lawmakers on new agreements.
“The United States has its own internal constraints, its own internal politics. But I think in the global sense, there is a desire on both sides ... to build on our relationship a little bit more and definitely an FTA is a good cog in that respect,” Nazif said.
Cairo “appreciates very much” the efforts Washington is making to promote democracy in the region and “we take that as a commitment that the United States will help the region to grow,” Nazif said. A free trade pact would lock in and expand the economic reforms Egypt has already made, he said.