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UAE still hoping for US trade deal by end 2006

Written by: Staff

ABU DHABI, May 14 : The United Arab Emirates said on Sunday it still hoped to clinch a trade deal with the United States this year and expects talks postponed in the aftermath of the Dubai Ports row to resume in the next few months.

The fifth round of trade talks had been scheduled for March, but were suddenly called off after a political storm in the United States forced state-owned Dubai Ports World to relinquish control of terminals at six major U.S. ports.

Since then, U.S. trade talks with Qatar have also run into trouble, with Doha saying it had frozen negotiations last month.

UAE and U.S. officials held technical meetings in Abu Dhabi last week but no date was set for the talks to resume.

UAE economy Minister Sheikha Lubna al-Qassimi said she expected the fifth round of talks to begin before the end of summer and a deal to be signed by the end of the year.

''We just finished a particular session on investment about a week ago. These are technical meetings and we will decide a date later,'' she told Reuters.

Sheikha Lubna declined comment on media reports that said Washington was pressing the UAE to open up its heavily protected telecommunications sector before a 2015 deadline set by the World Trade Organisation.

The daily Gulf News quoted Sultan Bin Saeed Al Mansouri, minister of government sector development, as saying that telecommunications remained a key area of contention.

''The American side is pressing hard towards the liberalisation of the UAE telecom sector with immediate effect, despite the fact that there is a timeframe that extends to 2015 according to the World Trade Organisation,'' Mansouri said.


A UAE source familiar with the trade talks said telecommunications had not been discussed at the technical meeting this month. Nor had the issue of labour rights, expected to be a major sticking point, the source said.

The United States is pressing the UAE to apply international standards to its workforce, made up mostly of low wage expatriate labour.

In March, U.S.-based watchdog Human Rights Watch urged Washington not to sign a deal with the UAE until the Gulf state ended what it described as mistreatment of foreign workers.

Labour rights were also a stumbling block in talks with Qatar, with Doha saying Washington needed to be more flexible.

The United States is seeking similar deals with other states in the oil-exporting region, including Oman, as part of efforts to create a regional free-trade zone in the Middle East by 2013.

Late last year, Congress approved a free-trade agreement with Bahrain by the widest margin of any pact since the White House won expedited trade-negotiating authority in 2002.

Congressional Republicans are pushing a free-trade deal with Oman, which the Arab state said it hopes will be signed before the end of the summer.


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