Today, Congressman Adam Smith (D-Wash.), joined by several colleagues in the House and Senate, introduced legislation to increase trade with the Middle East and Muslim world, “The Middle East Trade and Engagement Act of 2003.”

“Promoting stability and economic growth in this region of the world must be about more than just foreign aid and military action,” Smith said.  “We need to help bring these countries – and most importantly their people – into the global community, and history shows us that trade and economic relationships with other countries are the best way to reach that goal.  I am confident that a greater focus on trade with the Middle East and Muslim world will improve relations between America and these nations, promote economic growth and a rising middle class, and improve our national security.”

Joining Smith in introducing the House bill is Representative Cal Dooley (D-Calif.).  Senators Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) have introduced companion legislation in the Senate.

The legislation would provide for duty-free treatment of certain goods for countries who meet a set of criteria.  The criteria includes:

  1. the beneficiary nation must be making progress towards a market-based economy;
  2. promotion of the rule of law, due process, and other judicial rights;
  3. political pluralism and democratic elections;
  4. elimination of barriers to trade;
  5. economic policies that reduce poverty and provide certain social benefits, such as health care, education, and physical infrastructure;
  6. a system to combat bribery and corruption;
  7. not engaging in activities that threaten U.S. security and supports a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict;
  8. a signatory of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights; and
  9. is not listed by the U.S. Department of State as a sponsor of terrorism.

Smith first proposed the idea of a Middle East and Muslim World Trade package in a speech last year to the World Trade Council in Seattle, Washington.  The speech can be found online at:
http://www.house.govinternational/021029pr.html.

In that speech, Smith recognized that goods from the Middle East were saddled with some of the highest tariffs in America.  “Our trade policy is skewed against this region of the world,” noted Smith.  “If we truly want the Middle East to become a more stable region of the world, with an economy that can support a real middle class instead of the poverty of dignity that supports terrorism, we must give them the opportunity to grow and sell their goods here in America.”

Some of these goods include agricultural products such as nuts, dates, and figs, and labor-intensive factory goods, particularly textiles such as luggage, clothing, and carpets.  The tariffs on these goods are among the highest of all goods imported.

“At the same time, this legislation demands action by those countries in the Middle East and Muslim World,” explained Smith.  “Every country in the region is eligible, but they need to meet a set of criteria that demonstrate a commitment to freedom, democracy, human rights, fighting terrorism, and building a real middle class in their own nation.  To be sure, most – if not all – of the eligible nations will have to make real reforms, but if they do so, this bill ensures their efforts will lead to a more productive relationship with America and the rest of the world.”

President Bush recently proposed his own Middle East trade initiative, culminating in the creation of a free trade area in the Middle East by 2013.

While this is a good long-term goal, the people in the Middle East need our help now.  The Middle East Trade and Engagement Act of 2003 can have an immediate impact and bring the benefits of trade to the people of the Middle East in a much shorter time.  It will also help those countries make the significant economic reforms they will have to make before a free trade agreement can become a realistic option.

“I believe this should be at the top of the Bush Administration’s trade agenda for 2003,” continued Smith.  “We must demonstrate to the Middle East and Muslim world that we are looking to be partners with them in the goal of economic growth and stability for their region.”