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Sheikha Lubna in US trade visit

posted on 18/03/2006: 728 views

UAE Minister of Economy Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi will make an official visit early next week to the United States to discuss existing cooperation between the two countries, WAM reported yesterday.

She will meet in Washington DC with a number of US officials as part of the two countries' commitment to enhance their already close ties. Meanwhile, US trade representative Rob Portman told Reuters the recent political firestorm that forced government-owned Dubai Ports World to announce it would sell recently acquired US port operations would not prevent the two countries from completing a free trade agreement.

"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.

Senator 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 agreement since March last year 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 in 2005, making it the third-largest US 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 US ports.

Portman said he had talked with Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah Bin Zayed Al Nahyan and both countries were committed to continuing their trade talks, which are part of a broader US 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 US concerns over the pace of Egyptian political reforms. (Gulf News)


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