Seattlepi - 30/4/2006
Qatar has frozen bilateral free trade talks with the United States, saying Washington was imposing preconditions that were not in Doha's interest, a newspaper reported Saturday.
"In time we would be happy to go back to the negotiating table, but there are issues that need to be resolved first," Nasser bin Hamad Al Khalifa, Qatar's ambassador to the U.S., was quoted as saying in the daily Al Sharq.
"The talks were not proceeding in the right direction. They were going nowhere. It was like two deaf people talking to each other. There was no sense in continuing with the dialogue," Al Khalifa said.
The U.S. State Department had no immediate comment on the issue and said none was likely until Monday. Officials in Qatar, a key U.S. ally in the Middle East, also were not available for further comment.
President Bush has until July 2007, under "fast-track" authority, to cut trade deals with the Congress being able only to accept or reject international agreements as a whole without power to accept or reject specific portions of the measures.
"Let's take time and review things," said Al Khalifa. "Sometimes powerful countries put preconditions that are not in the interest of smaller countries."
The ambassador said there were concerns that accepting preconditions now could lead to the imposition of even greater demands later.
"It becomes a vicious circle," he said.
Questioning the need for a free trade agreement in the first place, Al Khalifa said World Trade Organization agreements were sufficient for mutual trade and investment between any two member countries.
"We do not need a free trade agreement with the U.S.," Al Khalifa said.
Qatar, he said, already was a major destination of investment for U.S. companies because of favorable investment laws in the tiny Gulf nation.
Countries that are signing free trade deals with the U.S. are either getting financial support from Washington or want preferential treatment for their products in the U.S. markets, he said.
"As for Qatar, it needs none of these from America," said Al Khalifa.
Qatar's primary export is liquefied natural gas, for which there is a hungry worldwide market.
Qatar, an energy-rich country with a population of about 800,000, is home to the U.S. Central Command's forward operations in the Middle East, which played a central role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq.