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Should the US OK Free Trade Agreements with the Middle East and North Africa?

Monday 25 February, 2008

I attended a lecture by Ralph Folsom, a law professor from the University of San Diego earlier this month, who spoke on the potential of a Middle Eastern Free Trade Agreement at the John Marshall Center for International Business & Trade law. He trudged through the snow for the 1st time in 10 years to speak with us.

Here are the main points I pulled out of his talk:

-MEFTA would contain 14 countries, including 4 in North Africa

-the FTA & relations with Israel are a major stumbling block

-“Qualifying Industrial Zones” QIZ’s would enable free trade with the US

-there were no free trade agreements in the Middle East 1985-2001

-unions in Jordan complain about workers from Bangladesh

-MEFTA would include possibilities with Iran & Syria, & exclude Turkey because it would be bad for Turkey’s application to the European Union

-Morocco was the 1st country in the world to recognize the US in 1776 & 1st MEFTA agreement with the European Union, & then US.

-Bahrain was the 2nd MEFTA agreement (driven by the US’ Iraq strategy), which is a copy of the agreement with Morocco, but trade with Bahrain is miniscule.

-Oman signed the 3rd MEFTA agreement-fyi, by signing, members cannot follow the Arab League’s boycott of Israel

-the United Arab Emirates is important because it has lots of gas & is the 3rd largest trading partner in the Middle East, but is a problem because there are many Iranian ex-pats there.

-It might have been advantageous to negotiate with the Gulf Cooperation Council, a customs union of 6 countries, rather than negotiate with each individually.

I tried to capture what Prof. Folsom said. If you’d like a copy of his more comprehensive paper “Trading for National Security? United States Free Trade Agreements in the Middle East & North Africa,” to see what he wrote, send him an e-mail message @ rfolsom@sandiego.edu or give him a call @ 619-260-2325 to request a copy. I contacted him both ways to ask to post it here, but never heard back from him.

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