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Tue 30 Dec 2008 08:59 AM

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US-Oman free trade deal set to start on Jan 1

US says agreement is part of its bid for better economic integration in the Middle East.

The United States has announced that a free trade agreement with oil-rich Oman will enter into force on January 1, lifting all tariff barriers to consumer and industrial products.

President George W. Bush has announced the entry into force of the US-Oman Free Trade Agreement as part of economic integration and development in the Middle East and better ties with the sultanate, US Trade Representative Susan Schwab said in a statement.

The implementation of the free trade pact came more than two years after it was approved by the US Congress in mid-2006 and signed by Bush later that year.

"We have worked closely with the government of Oman to ensure that the obligations and responsibilities of each party under the agreement have been met," Schwab said in a statement. "We have engaged in this effort as true partners."

On January 1, the first day the agreement goes into effect, "100 percent of two-way trade in consumer and industrial products will be duty-free," Schwab's office said.

"This will expand opportunities for exports of machinery, automobiles, optic and medical instruments, electrical machinery, and agricultural products such as vegetable oils, sugars, sweeteners and beverage bases," it said.

In addition, Oman will provide substantial market access across its entire services sector, including a "secure, predictable" legal framework for US investors operating in the sultanate.

It also will provide for effective enforcement of labor and environmental laws, and enhance the protection of intellectual property, the statement said.

The free trade agreement "marks a milestone in strengthening ties and promoting freedom in the Middle East and is an important step in advancing President Bush's Middle East free trade area initiative," Schwab said.

The Oman agreement builds on US free trade agreements concluded with Israel, Jordan, Morocco and Bahrain.

The regional free trade initiative is aimed at spurring economic growth and reform in the Middle East - an area of almost 330 million people and with a $158 billion trading relationship with the United States.

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