September 12,2003

Baucus Meets with Middle East Trade Ministers

Senator Discusses Importance of Strengthening Trade Relations with Countries of the Middle Ea

(Cancun, Mexico) U.S. Senator Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Ranking Member of the Senate FinanceCommittee, met today with trade ministers from eleven Middle Eastern countries to discuss theMiddle East Trade and Engagement Act, a bill he co-sponsored with Senator John McCain (RAriz).The legislation offers duty- free access to the U.S. market for products from qualifyingMiddle Eastern countries.

“We have preference programs with the countries of sub-Saharan Africa, the CaribbeanBasin, and the Andean region," Baucus said following the meeting. "No one would argue that theMiddle East is less important to the United States, or less deserving of economic development.”Modeled on successful existing programs for sub-Saharan Africa and the Andean region, theMiddle East Trade and Engagement Act is intended to help diversify and improve the economies ofthe Middle East and provide jobs for the rapidly growing population in those countries. MiddleEastern countries that meet certain criteria, such as having a market-based economy and supportingthe U.S. war on terrorism, are eligible to export certain goods to the United States tariff free.

“Similar legislation has proven to be effective in other regions of the world,” Baucus said.

“Opening U.S. markets to the countries of the Middle East will encourage trade, direct investmentand spur economic growth.”

President Bush has proposed a Middle East trade initiative that proposes creating a MiddleEast free trade area by 2013. Although Senator Baucus fully supports this goal, the Senatorbelieves the United States should be doing more to encourage economic reform and development inthe Middle East in the short term.

“We need to be engaging Middle Eastern countries more fully now, not ten years fromnow,” Baucus added. “If we limit our economic development efforts in that region in the shortterm, we do so at our peril.”

In attendance at the meeting were representatives from Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan,Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates.