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Friday, November 11, 2005

Arabs blast U.S. 'Big Brother' approach to Bilateral Free Trade Agreements

Arabs attending a conference Thursday in Bahrain blasted Washington's "Big Brother" attitude in bilateral Free Trade Agreements, saying they are political tools to serve U.S. interests rather than enhance economic prosperity in the region. "FTAs are not the ultimate solution for this region. ... I see FTAs as a catalyst for change and reform rather than promoting trade," said Rashid Rashid, Egypt's minister of foreign trade and industry.

"FTAs are creating a negative environment. It is a waste of time to think that we (Arabs) will achieve economic integration through the U.S.," Rashid told a panel during the Arab Business Council (ABC) annual meeting.

"The United States will not be the gateway for regional economic integration," he said.

Rashid's comments came in response to Robert Lawrence, professor of trade and investment at Harvard University, who had earlier told the panel that FTAs between Washington and Arabs will help integrate Arab economies.

"If Arab countries can integrate with the United States (through FTAs), it will be easy for them to integrate with each other," Lawrence said.

Although he acknowledged that the "U.S. motives of these agreements are fundamentally political," Lawrence said "but they have to deliver economically in order to be effective." Arabs can reap the fruits of FTAs if they use them "to open up their economies and accelerate domestic reforms," Lawrence said.

Washington has already signed FTAs with Jordan, Morocco and Bahrain and is negotiating similar accords with Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

Source: The Daily Star

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