Rice: Timing off for free trade with Egypt

Washington Post, Sunday, February 19, 2006

Rice: Timing Off for Free Trade With Egypt

The Associated Press

CAIRO, Egypt — The United States will not seek to close a free trade agreement with Egypt this year because the "timing" is not right, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said before a trip to Middle East that includes a first stop in Egypt.

It was widely believed Washington, which had planned to reach the agreement with the government of President Hosni Mubarak by year’s end, had switched course after what it saw as backsliding on Egyptian promises to reform its political system.

There was widespread police-inspired violence during parliamentary elections late last year as the government openly sought to block opposition voters from reaching the polls. Nearly a dozen people were killed in the election violence.

Rice, however, denied the trade pact was being withheld to penalize the Egyptian government.

"It’s not a matter of punishment. It’s just a matter of the timing being not quite right," Rice said, according to the transcript of an interview she gave Friday to Arab journalists in Washington.

"It’s important that we have the right atmosphere for free trade agreements because they have to, of course, go through Congress," Rice said.

U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman has said an overall free trade agreement with potential partners needs to be finished by the end of 2006. The Bush administration has said it needs to meet that timetable to present the deal to Congress under expedited procedures that call for an up-or-down vote without amendments.

The administration’s authority to negotiate such deals expires in mid-2007.

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source: AP