US mulling free-trade deals with Egypt, South Korea, Malaysia

Bloomberg - 8 Sept 2005

U.S. Mulling Free-Trade Deals With Egypt, South Korea, Malaysia

Sept. 8 (Bloomberg) — The Bush administration said it’s considering separate entreaties from Egypt, Malaysia, South Korea and Switzerland to negotiate free-trade agreements with them.

U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman told Congressional members today that the administration is ``looking at the possibility’’ of entering into talks with each of those countries on ending tariffs and setting investment rules.

The U.S. also secured a letter from Bahrain that it says it won’t re-impose embargos against trade with Israel, which should allow Congress to pass a free-trade agreement with that country this year, Portman said.

The consideration of new deals follows by one month the administration’s victory in getting Congress to approve the U.S.- Central American Free Trade Agreement, which passed the House of Representatives by two votes after more than a yearlong delay.

Only 15 Democrats voted for Cafta, and Portman said part of what he is trying to do is make sure that when the next free-trade agreement comes up for a vote it receives bipartisan support.

``With more consultations you end up with a better agreement and you end up with an agreement that passes more easily,’’ Portman said.

Already the top Democrat on the trade subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee, Benjamin Cardin of Maryland, said that the Bahrain deal is ``lined up and ready to go.’’ Cardin helped lead the opposition to Cafta.

WTO

The possibility of new bilateral trade agreements come as lawmakers warned that negotiations in the World Trade Organization are in trouble because the European Union is unwilling to reduce barriers to U.S. farm exports.

``The burden is on the Europeans to jump-start the negotiations,’’ said U.S. Representative Robert Goodlatte, of Virginia, the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. ``We’ve seen no indication that we will get more market access, and without market access we have a non-starter’’ in the WTO talks.

The U.S. and the other 147 nations of the WTO face a December deadline to reach the broad outlines of an agreement in the so- called Doha Round of talks, which are aimed at cutting aid to farmers in rich nations, lowering tariffs for industrial goods and opening opportunities for banks, insurance companies and software providers to expand across borders.

An accord requires that all WTO members agree, something that negotiators failed to do at talks in Cancun in 2003 and in Seattle in 1999.

``We certainly want Doha to be successful,’’ said House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, who spoke to reporters alongside Portman after today’s meeting in Washington. But global trade summits ``often end up dealing in cheap political stunts,’’ which could doom a summit in Hong Kong in December, he added.

source: Bloomberg