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US sees trade deal with UAE

Reuters, Tue Mar 14, 2006

U.S. sees trade deal with UAE

By Doug Palmer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is eager to resume trade talks with the United Arab Emirates after the furore over a ports deal with Dubai and hopes to clinch an agreement within the next few months, the U.S. trade representative said on Tuesday.

Rob Portman told Reuters the recent political firestorm that forced state-owned Dubai Ports World to announce it would sell recently acquired U.S. port operations would not prevent the two countries from reaching a deal.

"We intend to continue that discussion and we hope to conclude a free trade agreement within the next few months," Portman said.

"The people I’ve talked to in the UAE understand that this (the ports controversy) is a security issue. It’s not a trade issue. And I think they understand the politics of it," he said.

Sen. John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, raised port security as an issue in his unsuccessful bid to unseat President George W. Bush in 2004, and many lawmakers have pressed similar concerns in their own campaigns, Portman said.

"It was a raw nerve already," Portman said. "Frankly, the United Arab Emirates sort of got caught in that."

The United States and the UAE have been working on a free- trade pact since March 2005 and had been scheduled to hold their fifth round of talks this week in Abu Dhabi.

Trade between the United States and the UAE amounted to $10 billion (6 billion pounds) in 2005, making it the third-largest U.S. trading partner in the Middle East behind Israel and Saudi Arabia.

The free-trade talks were suddenly postponed last week after congressional efforts to block the ports deal prompted Dubai Ports World to announce it would sell its right to run terminal operations at U.S. ports.

Portman said he had talked with UAE Foreign Minister Rashid Abdullah al-Nuaimi and both countries were committed to continuing their trade talks, which are part of a broader U.S. effort to forge a regional free trade area in the Middle East by 2013.

"I think there’s ... an understanding that the United States would like ... to have a deeper economic relationship throughout the Middle East," Portman said.

The United States already has free trade pacts with Israel, Jordan, Morocco and Bahrain. Congress is expected to vote on an agreement this year with Oman, which neighbours the UAE.

Portman expressed hope of eventually beginning talks with Egypt on a free trade pact. That has been blocked by U.S. concerns over the pace of Egyptian political reforms.

 source: Reuters