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Trade Advisory Groups Support U.S.-Bahrain FTA

WASHINGTON – The Office of the United States Trade Representative has transmitted to the President and the Congress reports from 27 trade advisory committees, comprising more than 750 practitioners representing diverse interests and views, regarding the recently completed U.S.-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement (FTA). The Trade Act of 2002 requires these committees to prepare reports on proposed trade agreements for the Administration and Congress. There was widespread support for the agreement.

“Our trade advisory committees recognize that Bahrain’s economic reforms have put it on a path to becoming a regional and economic financial and trade center,” said U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick. “The US - Bahrain FTA will deepen America’s economic links with Bahrain and represents another step forward in President Bush’s plan for building prosperity, opportunity and hope in the Middle East.”

The Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations (ACTPN), which is appointed by the President and is the most senior committee unanimously said, “the U.S.-Bahrain Free Trade Agreement (FTA) fully meets the negotiating principles and objectives laid out in the Trade Act of 2002 and [ACTPN] believes the FTA is strongly in the interest of the United States.” ACTPN members also found that “[i]t is an excellent agreement that will improve market access forAmerican goods, servicesand agricultural products in Bahrain.”

A majority of the Trade and Environment Policy Advisory Committee (TEPAC) found that “this agreement has been negotiated with a friendly Arab government initiating steps toward democracy and situated near the heart of an extremely complex geopolitical region… this agreement, as well as the Administration’s larger Middle East Trade Initiative, might help contribute to economic growth and stability and to positive national security outcomes in the region.” A majority of members “support the conclusion that the Agreement provides adequate safeguards to ensure that Congress’s environmental negotiating objectives will be met.”

Committees representing sectors such as services, consumer goods and intellectual property also expressed broad support for the Bahrain FTA. The committee on Services and Finance reported that “[t]aken together with the U.S.-Bahrain Bilateral Investment Treaty, the Bahrain FTA establishes a strong precedent for other trade agreements.” Many committees stressed the comprehensive nature of the agreement. Members of the consumer goods committee supported “provisions on intellectual property and investment” and endorsed “the comprehensive nature of the U.S. - Bahrain FTA and believe its terms represent an advance in many aspects.”

Agricultural advisory committees were also supportive. The senior-level Agricultural Policy Advisory Committee (APAC) said the FTA “will improve opportunities for U.S. agricultural exports.” APAC members noted that “[t]his comprehensive agreement covers all agricultural products and will provide immediate duty-free access on 98 percent of agricultural tariff lines.”

The Labor Advisory Committee (LAC) objected to the agreement on grounds similar to its opposition to all other free trade agreements negotiated under the Trade Act of 2002 with both developed and developing countries, claiming insufficient protection of workers’ rights.

For more information, see the text of the reports.

Background

The trade advisory committee system was established in the Trade Act of 1974. The purpose of the system is to ensure that the Administration receives advice and assistance from a broad range of stakeholders in setting U.S. trade policy and developing balanced U.S. positions in trade negotiations. The advisory program is run jointly by five federal agencies: USTR, the Department of Commerce, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Labor, and the Environmental Protection Agency. USTR is the lead agency.

The advisory groups are made up of more than 750 cleared advisors from business, agriculture, labor, environmental groups, consumer groups, state and local governments, as well as academic experts and retired U.S. government officials. There are 27 advisory committees, which meet with U.S. trade officials to provide advice on proposed and on-going initiatives. In FY03, more than 150 advisory committee meetings were held. In addition, USTR and other agencies keep advisors informed - through the Internet and by e-mail - of important developments in trade negotiations.

Recent advances in the advisory system include webcast briefings at trade ministerial meetings, more frequent briefings during the concluding phases of trade negotiations, a secure website for review of documents, and a re-structuring of the industry advisory committees to reflect the changing makeup of the U.S. economy.