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United States-Oman Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC


UNITED STATES-OMAN FREE TRADE AGREEMENT IMPLEMENTATION ACT -- (House of Representatives - July 20, 2006)

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Mr. UDALL of Colorado. Mr. Speaker, I rise in opposition to H.R. 5684, the United States-Oman Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act. While the agreement would provide some benefits both for the people of the U.S. and Oman, I think the agreement contains more flaws than benefits, and I believe it must be rejected.

The agreement, which is similar to free trade agreements (FTA)s with Middle Eastern countries Morocco and Bahrain, would provide the U.S. and Oman duty-free access for almost all consumer and industrial goods, with special provisions for agriculture, textiles and apparel. Both countries would phase out all tariffs on the remaining eligible goods within 10 years.

I have supported a number of trade agreements to expand access to foreign markets for exports as part of a long-term strategy to strengthen the American economy. While expanding market access for American industry, financial markets and farmers is critical, I believe it needs to be done responsibly, accounting for the treatment and protection of workers and the environment. This agreement makes efforts to do so but in my opinion needs to go further.

Regarding the agreement's labor provisions, I am concerned that Oman is not in compliance with International Labor Organization (ILO) core labor standards. There are no labor unions in Oman today. The royal decree issued by Sultan Qaboos--which prohibits forced labor and endorses the use of collective bargaining and strikes--is a step in the right direction, but more needs to be done. It's important that the provisions in the recent decree be implemented before Congress considers this agreement. Regardless of the outcome of today's vote, I urge the Administration and the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to monitor and take necessary steps to ensure the implementation of this decree.

I think the Administration and the USTR would be well served by including labor provisions, such as those contained in the U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement, in the body of future trade agreements and making them subject to sanctions via dispute resolution procedures. The dispute resolution procedures continue to fall short in FTAs negotiated by the Bush Administration, and the Oman FTA is no exception. It is important that the United States takes step to ensure our trading partners provide workers with basic labor rights.

I am also concerned about reports that the U.S.-Oman FTA would create a new right requiring the U.S. to allow any Omani company to buy U.S. port operations. Given the uproar earlier this year over the news that Dubai Ports World had been permitted to take over the operations of several U.S. ports, it seemed only reasonable today to pass the Cardin amendment, which would close the loophole in the current trade agreement that allows a foreign company with operations in Oman to operate U.S. Port facilities. But the Republican leadership would not allow the amendment to be considered.

Expanding the liberalization of trade in goods and services between the U.S. and Oman can help us build a stronger relationship with a strategic country in the Middle East. I firmly believe the Bush Administration squandered this opportunity by not paying sufficient attention to national security concerns and by not ensuring basic labor standards in the agreement, which is why I must oppose H.R. 5684 today.

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