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Maqbool cites reasons for move to begin free-trade pact talks with US

Times of Oman

Maqbool cites reasons for move to begin free-trade pact talks with US

15 February 2005

MUSCAT - Maqbool bin Ali Sultan, minister of commerce and industry, yesterday cited two reasons for the Sultanate’s decision to begin negotiations for a free-trade agreement with the US. He was addressing Omani businessmen, private sector officials and representatives of the companies operating in the Sultanate during a meeting at the Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

The first reason was that the US sees that the agreement should be concluded between states and not with economic blocs like the AGCC because in that case it will take years to conclude. The second reason, the minister said, was that the pact would not cover commodities only, but include services and other matters governed by different laws in different AGCC member states like foreign banks and the attitude towards liberalisation of the telecommunications sector.

Negotiations on the bilateral free-trade pact is scheduled to commence here next month, he added. The minister said the US had signed similar agreements with Australia, Jordan, Morocco, Bahrain and Singapore and is negotiating for the same purpose at present with the Sultanate and UAE. He said a framework agreement on investment and trade between the US and AGCC states had already been signed and the Sultanate was the last state to ink the pact in June last year. He said the agreement, the first step and in the case of the Sultanate, would be followed by the second step of signing a free-trade agreement with the US.

Maqbool said a number of meetings were held on the proposed agreement regarding each and every sector and OCCI participated through the committees in these meetings.

He said it was agreed after the issue of the agreement was discussed by the council to go ahead and enter into the negotiations on signing the agreement with the US.

The minister reviewed the subjects covered in the planned agreement which include customs duties, financial services, communications, insurance, capital market, foreign capital share, government purchases, tenders and labour.

Engineer Salim bin Said Al Ghatami, president of the OCCI, said in an address at the outset of the meeting, the Sultanate seeks by entering into negotiations with the US to open up prospects for investment cooperation and expanding trade exchange and free flow of commodities and services between the two countries. - ONA