Bahrain Tribune | 4 June 2006
No political price for FTA, says UAE
The UAE is not willing to make any political concessions to secure a free trade agreement with the US, Prime Minister Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum told Asharq Al Awsat newspaper yesterday.
Asked what price the UAE would pay to sign the deal with Washington, given the US concerns over its labour laws, Shaikh Mohammed was quoted as saying: “The UAE will not pay a political price for any trade agreement with the US or any other country.”
The US is pressing the UAE to apply international standards to its workforce, made up mostly of low-wage expatriate labour.
In March, US-based watchdog Human Rights Watch urged Washington not to sign a deal until the country ended what it described as mistreatment of the foreign workers.
Last month, the UAE said it hoped to clinch the deal this year and expected postponed talks to resume in the months ahead.
The fifth round of trade talks had been scheduled for March, but was suddenly called off after a political storm in the US forced state-owned Dubai Ports World to relinquish control of terminals at six major US ports.
Shaikh Mohammed told the London-based daily that the UAE was in the process of reviewing its laws to prepare for membership in the World Trade Organisation and other agreements.
“Each law that requires amendment will be amended ... laws dealing with financial markets need to be developed as well as the labour law and press and publishing law.
“Laws dealing with trade must be amended in line with the UAE’s membership in the WTO but according to a timetable which protects the interests of the nation and its people.
The proposed deal is part of a broader US effort to craft a regional free-trade zone in the Middle East by 2013.
Labour rights were also a stumbling block in Washington’s free trade talks with Qatar, with Doha freezing negotiations in April and saying the US needed to be more flexible.