The U.S. Senate has voted 60 to 34 to approve a free trade agreement with Oman. The House of Representatives could act on the measure as early as next month.
The U.S.-Oman trade accord, which will eliminate duties on goods and services in the countries' bilateral trade, is part of Washington's plans to establish a regional free trade zone in the Middle East by 2013.
The United States already has free-trade pacts with Jordan, Morocco, Bahrain and Israel.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist says the U.S.-Oman pact will benefit American workers. "The Oman agreement will expand opportunity for exports of many American products to the benefits of American workers, consumers, manufacturers, farmers, ranchers and service providers," he said.
Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab told a Senate hearing earlier this year that the trade pact would help support economic, political and social reforms in Oman, which she described as a key ally in the war on terrorism.
But the accord is not without its critics.
Like previous trade accords, labor groups and their congressional allies are concerned about an erosion of American workers' rights under this deal.
Senator Byron Dorgan, a North Dakota Democrat, said the agreement fails to call on Oman to improve its labor laws. "There are no labor unions in Oman. In 2003, the Sultan of Oman issued a Sultanic Decree which categorically denies workers the right to organize and join unions of their choosing," he said.
Dorgan noted that Oman is home to more than half a million foreign guest workers brought in from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and other Asian countries to work in construction or factories.
Deputy Trade Representative Schwab has argued the trade pact includes labor protections.
Bilateral trade with Oman reached one-point-two billion dollars last year, with half of that coming from U.S. exports.