Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Man, Oman - maybe bilateral agreements won't fly either...

A little noticed free trade agreement (FTA) with Oman ( 200 bonus points if you can name the capital*) may be in trouble in the House. It appears that protectionism is a big political strategy with Democrats and "textile" Republicans.

Oman is the fifth Middle Eastern country to sign a free trade agreement with the U.S., joining Israel, Jordan, Bahrain and Morocco. Oman wants to modernize and diversify its economy, and free trade with the U.S. is part of that strategy. Two-way trade is now only $1.2 billion a year, but the deal would make all U.S. industrial and consumer products duty-free immediately and phase out farm tariffs over 10 years. The country is also a stalwart friend in a rough neighborhood where we need all the help we can get.

So you'd think this would be an easy call. Nope. While the FTA passed the Senate last month with 60 votes, 34 Senators voted no, including 29 Democrats. And when the deal was approved in the House Ways and Means Committee on the same day, all 15 Democrats opposed it. Congressman Charles Rangel, ranking Democrat on Ways and Means, signaled the battle to come on the House floor by noting, "I don't believe we will have much bipartisan support on the question of Oman." Thanks for the statesmanship, Charlie.

While I have been blogging away about the Doha round, it would appear that many in government have already forsaken that vehicle to concentrate on piecemeal treaties. Even that's not working very well, apparently.

That's a problem because a much larger agreement with Peru is in the works. If that one goes down, trade talks of any kind will face gloomy prospects.

(*Muscat - as in "Muscat love", I guess)

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