Commerce & Industry Minister Maqbool bin Ali Sultan and US trade representative Rob Portman concluded the US-Oman free trade agreement (FTA) by video conference on 3 October following seven months of negotiations. The formal signing will take place within 90 days (MEED 9:9:05).

The local sectors to benefit the most will include the industrial, agricultural, textile and handicraft industries, which are the sultanate’s primary export earners to the US. Under the FTA, all customs duties on consumer and industrial products will be abolished. On agricultural products, 87 per cent of trade will be duty-free, with the remainder of tariffs – on the Omani side – phased out over the next decade. For textiles, the majority of products will see tariffs eliminated either immediately or in five years.

Market access will also be liberalised in the service sectors, particularly in the financial services, telecommunications, healthcare and construction industries. Muscat will provide secure legal frameworks for US investors and ensure effective enforcement of labour, environmental laws and intellectual property rights. Bilateral trade in goods between the US and Oman totalled $748 million in 2004. US foreign direct investment in 2003 in Oman was $358 million, according to US Trade Representative data.

Under the agreement, Bin Ali Sultan also agreed that Muscat would not enforce Arab boycott calls against Israel and ensure that all ministries in the country would abide by this. The accord will now go to Congress, where it must be ratified by both houses, and the Majlis al-Shoura.

www.meed.com/economy