Qatari Energy Minister in Washington to boost trade talks

Kuwait News Agency

Qatari Energy Minister in Washington to boost trade talks

By Aya Batrawy

14 June 2006

WASHINGTON, June 14 (KUNA) — Qatari Energy Minister Abdullah Al-Attiyah met with US officials in Washington this week to boost stalled talks on a possible free trade agreement (FTA) between the two countries.

Qatar, an OPEC member and one of the worlds largest oil producers, is eyeing an FTA with the United States that the neighboring Gulf States of Bahrain and Oman have recently secured. There is a sense of urgency on the part of economic advisors, officials and investors in the United States and abroad to begin the FTA talks as soon as possible with ready-countries before the middle of next year.

This is because the Trade Promotion Authority expires at that time, which will in essence allow Congress to once again deliberate and amend certain provisions of lengthy and technical trade agreements that are currently voted on by a much simpler up or down vote.

Although US officials praised the Qatari government for opening its country to US investment, providing a home to the militarys Central Command center in the Middle East and continuing to push for greater oil production, trade talks have not moved forward between the two allied countries.

But talks for an FTA between the United States and Qatar reached an impasse when both sides could not agree on key issues.

Qatari Ambassador to the United States Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa was quoted recently as saying that the talks were going nowhere and described it as "two deaf people talking to each other.

"There was no sense in continuing with the dialogue," Al Khalifa said.

Qatar, a nation of strategic location in the Arabian Gulf near major petroleum deposits, has a population of just over 885,000 people. Although relatively small in size, US companies believe that Qatar serves as a gateway to the rest of the Middle East for US products and services. Moreover, because of its roughly 16 billion barrels of proven oil reserves and 25 trillion cubic meters of natural gas, joint ventures by companies such as General Electric and Conoco Phillips and RasGas and ExxonMobil ExxonMobil investing heavily in Qatar’s energy sector.

In fact, US investment in Qatar topped 70 billion dollars in 2005 due to the development of natural gas reserves in the North Field, which is the largest non-associated natural gas reservoir in the world. Furthermore, the United States and Qatar signed in 2004 a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, viewed as an essential stepping stone to beginning free trade talks.

But a sticking point to beginning FTA talks with Qatar is the lack of enforcement of International Property Rights laws, said Undersecretary of Commerce Frank Lavin.

Lavin, speaking that a luncheon in Washington attended by Al-Attiyah and other officials, said that if Qatar wants to serve as a platform for investors it "must find the kind of solution to these problems." For his part, Al-Attiyah made a plea to investors at the luncheon to consider Qatar for future investments.

He also said that Qatar plans to be the worlds largest oil exporter and the biggest exporter of oil to the United States by 2010 with nearly 6 million barrels a day produced, adding that Qatar also needs guarantees from the United States.

The energy minister said that Congress must not block foreign investment into the United States and politicize such deals.

"We hope that what hear is not true," he said referring to some Congressional concerns about foreign investment in some sectors of the US economy, as was the case with the failed 6.8 billion dollar deal for the Arab-owned Dubai Ports World to manage some American ports.

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