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Talk of FTA problems premature: US official

Gulf Times, Qatar

Talk of FTA problems premature: US official

Staff Reporter

5 June 2006

It is premature to say there are problems between Qatar and the US in the discussions towards a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs C David Welch said yesterday.

"We have not started down the free trade road yet," the visiting official pointed out at a press conference when asked about the recent remarks of Qatar’s ambassador to the US, Nasser bin Hamad al-Khalifa, that FTA negotiations are "frozen because of certain teething issues".

Welch, on a tour of the region, said any issues between Qatar and the US could be sorted out. "We have a good economic relationship with Qatar, and are looking to improve it," he said.

Eventually, the US would like to have FTAs with all countries in the Middle East, he added.

US Ambassador Chase Untermeyer had said early last month, in response to al-Khalifa’s remark, that the US and Qatar were yet to start formal talks on an FTA.

Untermeyer had clarified that before proceeding with formal talks on an FTA with any country, the US asks for information indicating that the laws of that country comply with international agreements in different areas, including labour and copyright protection.

A Trade and Investment Framework Agreement was signed by the US with Qatar in 2004 as a precursor to launching FTA negotiations.

"Reaching an FTA is a very long process," the US envoy had said at a press conference last January while explaining that Qatar must make itself ready by opening its economy to all countries, and getting rid of state monopolies and other enterprises.

"As Qatar focuses on and resolves issues related to labour sponsorship laws, obstacles to investment in the telecom sector and lowering of trade barriers, among others, we will be able to go for the ultimate goal of an FTA," he said.

Once Qatar completes the formalities, formal negotiations can be held, followed by the approval of the FTA by the US Congress, Untermeyer had clarified.

Welch had meetings with HH the Heir Apparent Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, First Deputy Premier and Foreign Minister HE Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabor al-Thani, and Minister of State for Foreign Affairs HE Ahmed bin Abdullah al-Mahmoud.

"We discussed all issues in the region and the US-Qatari relations," Welch said.