A UAE delegation will meet the Office of the US Trade Representative, the US government agency that negotiates international trade deals. The discussions will be held under the Trade & Investment Frame Work Agreement, known as Tifa-Plus.

“Both governments have agreed to continue along a path of meetings under Tifa-Plus,” says UAE Economy Minister Sheikha Lubna al-Qasimi. “There are good intentions to continue the dialogue.”

The goal of Tifa-Plus is to address short-term trade issues and to work toward the resumption of free-trade negotiations.

The US administration’s ability to negotiate free-trade agreements ended in June 2007, when Congress failed to renew or extend the Trade Promotion Authority. The authority gave US President George Bush the right to negotiate fast-track deals. However, Sheikha Lubna plays down the significance of this.

“The free-trade agreement talks stalled due to US domestic policy,” she says. “That was just a technical issue. There is no political issue. It is just timing and we are not the only country it affects. [The agreement] will depend on what comes up in the new Congress.”

Trade between the US and UAE in 2006 totalled $14bn, according to the Economy Ministry. “It shows our openness and also reflects the economic growth that we have and that we are a
re-export trading hub,” says Sheikha Lubna.

The Trade and Investment Framework Agreement was signed by the US and the UAE in March 2004, providing a forum to find ways to boost bilateral trade. It is one of eight such deals the US has signed with countries in the region.

The US and the UAE began free-trade negotiations in March 2005, in an effort to eliminate tariffs and other barriers to trade. However, there have been several sticking points, including reforms to the UAE labour market, limits on foreign ownership in the federation and barriers to entry into the services sector.

Negotiations between Washington and other countries have been more successful. The US began free-trade negotiations with Oman in March 2005 and signed an agreement with the sultanate the following year.

It has signed similar free-trade deals with several other countries around the region, including with Jordan in 2000 and with Bahrain and Morocco in 2004.

In May 2003, President Bush advocated the creation of a US-Middle East free-trade area within a decade. This would be based around a series of bilateral investment treaties, free-trade agreements, and trade and investment framework agreements.

Countries would also be encouraged to join the World Trade Organisation.