Bahrain trade pact with US defended

MANAMA - Bahrain defended on Saturday its controversial free trade agreement with the United States, which has angered its fellow Gulf States and is expected to top the agenda at a Gulf Arab summit next week.

By (Reuters)

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Published: Mon 20 Dec 2004, 11:31 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 11:48 AM

Critics say the pact clashes with the Gulf Cooperation Council’s (GCC) own accords, weakens GCC efforts at economic integration, and is a reward for the support Manama gives Washington by providing a base for the US Navy Fifth Fleet.

The spat over the trade pact, signed in September, is expected to be at the centreof the annual GCC summit, which opens in Bahrain today.

“What has been agreed between Bahrain and the United States does not bring any harm to any GCC country,” Bahraini Finance Minister Abdullah Saif told reporters.

“The US market is estimated at around 250 million consumers and it can be very beneficial to the Gulf states to reach agreements, either bilateral or as a bloc with the United States,” he said after a meeting of Gulf finance ministers.

“The negotiations have taken many years before reaching the agreement and this was not a secret to our brothers in the GCC,” Saif added.

Saudi Arabia, the only Gulf country with a land link to Bahrain, has the biggest but least liberalised Gulf economy. Experts say it fears US goods imported tariff-free into Bahrain will be re-sold in Saudi Arabia.

The United States is seeking similar free trade deals with Oman and the UAE as part of efforts to create a Middle East and North African free trade zone by 2013.

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