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Free trade talks with US to reopen in April after delay

posted on 22/03/2006: 2269 views

Free trade talks between the UAE and the United States should resume at the end of April after an unexpected delay this month, with a final deal seen by midyear, officials said yesterday. Both sides have been working on a free trade agreement (FTA) since March 2005 and had originally been scheduled to hold their fifth round of talks last week. But the ongoing negotiations were postponed following the collapse of a deal that would have allowed Dubai Ports World to manage a total of six American port terminals.

UAE Economy Minister Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi said the delay in the talks was "absolutely not” related to the DP World deal, which unravelled after American lawmakers raised fierce security concerns. She noted that government working groups had held talks on the free trade deal as recently as last week.

"We are targeting end of April, probably, for the next round,” she told Reuters in an interview after talks with US Trade Representative Rob Portman. She said the next round would take place in Abu Dhabi.

Portman's spokeswoman Neena Moorjani said: "Both sides are committed to working through the complex issues in FTA negotiations with an eye toward completing work by the middle of this year.” Sheikha Lubna also said she would like to clinch a final deal this summer.

Moorjani said Portman and Sheikha Lubna had "identified areas where further progress will need to be made, including on the investment chapter, and market access in financial services and telecommunications”.

Trade between the US and the UAE amounted to US$10 billion (Dh36.7bn) in 2005, making it the third largest US trading partner in the Middle East behind Israel and Saudi Arabia.

The proposed trade deal is part of a broader US effort to craft a regional free trade zone in the Middle East by 2013. The US already has free trade pacts with Jordan, Morocco and Bahrain. Congress is expected to vote this year on an agreement with Oman.

Sheikha Lubna said her country respected US security concerns and did not consider the collapse of the DP World deal a setback for trade talks. "What is important to understand is that Dubai Ports World is a case that [became] politicised,” she said. "It really does not touch the free trade agreement.” She said the UAE understood the security concerns raised by the United States, which have also triggered a delay in the takeover of Doncasters by Dubai International Capital.

Doncasters is a UK-based engineering company that operates American plants making parts for defence contractors. "We respect that the security issue is crucial and is a hot subject in the US. So we have to be understanding of that. There is legitimacy to that here, that people are asking these questions,” Sheikha Lubna said. "I think in the Doncasters case, it is the same.” Meanwhile, GCC–India FTA talks are currently scheduled to take place in Riyadh by the end of this month; with Pakistan in Islamabad in May; and with China in Muscat in April. (Reuters)


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