March 20, 2006

UAE, US plan next free trade talks

By Caroline Drees

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Free trade talks between the United
Arab Emirates and the United States should resume at the end of
April, UAE Economy Minister Sheikha Lubna al-Qassimi and the
U.S. Trade Representative's office said on Monday.

"We are targeting end of April, probably, for the next
round," Sheikha Lubna said, adding that government working
groups had held talks as recently as last week.

Both sides have been working on a free trade pact since
March 2005 and had originally been scheduled to hold their
fifth round of talks last week. The talks were postponed
earlier this month, right after the collapse of a deal for a
state-owned Dubai company to manage U.S. port terminals.

Sheikha Lubna said the delay in the talks was "absolutely
not" related to the Dubai Ports World deal, which unraveled
after U.S. lawmakers raised fierce security concerns.

"Both sides are committed to working through the complex
issues in FTA negotiations with an eye toward completing work
by the middle of this year," said Neena Moorjani, spokeswoman
for the office of U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman.

Moorjani said Portman and Sheikha Lubna "identified areas
where further progress will need to be made including on the
investment chapter, and also on market access in financial
services and telecommunications."

Trade between the United States and the UAE amounted to $10
billion in 2005, making it the third-largest U.S. trading
partner in the Middle East behind Israel and Saudi Arabia.

(With additional reporting by Sophie Walker in Washington)