- The Washington Times - Friday, May 9, 2003

Southeast Asian nations Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines are serious candidates for free-trade agreements with the United States, U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick said yesterday.Egypt and the small Persian Gulf nation of Bahrain also are on a short list of potential free-trade partners, Mr. Zoellick said at a conference sponsored by the Institute for International Economics, a Washington think tank.”Those, in my view, are serious candidates,” he said.The three Pacific Rim countries are members of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), founded to promote economic and political ties among its members.President Bush in October announced the Enterprise for ASEAN Initiative, which proposed bilateral free-trade agreements between the United States and ASEAN members.Mr. Bush earlier this week signed a free-trade pact with Singapore, the United States’ first such agreement with an Asian nation. Singapore is an ASEAN member.The Singapore trade pact needs congressional approval. Congress can approve or reject the deal, but cannot change it under trade-negotiating authority Mr. Bush won last year.Mr. Zoellick did not give a time frame to start talks with any of the countries he named.His office is pursuing a series of bilateral trade deals. It is in talks with Australia, Morocco, five countries in southern Africa and five countries in Central America.At the same time, the United States and 145 other World Trade Organization (WTO) members are trying to lower trade barriers for goods and services in a wide-ranging round of negotiations.The WTO talks have missed a series of deadlines. The most important area of negotiation, agriculture, appears to be at an impasse as countries cannotagree on proper levels for subsidies and tariffs.”If there isn’t substantial movement on agriculture, we’re going to have a real problem,” Mr. Zoellick said yesterday.Last week he met with European Union counterparts to try and advance the WTO agenda.The United States also is leading discussions for a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), which would include 34 countries in the hemisphere. Mr. Zoellick’s staff has been working on preparations for a high-level FTAA meeting in November in Miami.A General Accounting Office report on the FTAA negotiations, released yesterday, said that the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office “faces challenges to its readiness to assume these responsibilities.”The report noted that nations may not be ready or willing to make ambitious offers on lowering trade barriers, and cited the difficulty of negotiations involving agriculture and the lack of experience the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office has in holding major ministerial meetings.”Unfortunately, the GAO report raises many questions about the administration’s readiness to assume its important responsibilities,” Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, said yesterday.Mr. Grassley commissioned the report to review progress in the FTAA negotiations and the United States’ readiness to hold the November meeting.Mr. Zoellick did not mention the GAO report yesterday but said that if the hemispherewide process slows, the administration could seek bilateral agreements “one by one by one.”The United States has completed negotiations on a free-trade pact with Chile, but Mr. Bush has not announced a date to sign it. The delay is widely seen as punishment for Chile’s failure to support the administration’s policy on Iraq.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide