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Friday, November 18, 2005

US House, Senate panels approve Bahrain trade deal

Key committees in the Senate and the House of Representatives approved a U.S. free trade agreement with Bahrain on Friday, clearing the way for final congressional approval by the end of the year. The pact strengthens U.S. trade and investment ties with a moderate Arab state that is a tiny island neighbor of Saudi Arabia and home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet.

Bahrain also has promised separately to completely end its participation in the Arab League boycott of Israel and -- under pressure from congressional Democrats -- take further action to strengthen its labor laws. Republicans and Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee approved the pact on a voice vote in contrast to their bitter debate earlier this year over a free trade agreement with Cental America. The Senate Finance Committee passed the agreement by a vote of 20-0.

"I think this committee is breaking new ground today on how we handle trade agreements." said Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, the top Democrat on the Ways and Means panel.

"Democrats believe we need some language included in (trade pact legislation) so that we can walk away satisfied that some countries, particularly developing nations, will not be driven to the bottom in terms of worker rights," Rangel said.

The full House and Senate are expected to approve the agreement in December. A U.S. trade official predicted it would be approved by a larger vote than any other recent trade deal. Although Bahrain is a small trading partner, the agreement brings Washington one step closer to its goal of crafting a regional free trade zone in the Middle East by 2013.

Source: Reuters

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