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US, Morocco Start Negotiations for Free Trade Agreement - 2003-01-21

The United States and Morocco have launched negotiations aimed at concluding a free trade agreement by the end of this year. President Bush and Morocco's King Mohammed agreed in principle to seek the free trade deal last April, during the Moroccan leader's visit to Washington.

Negotiations for the accord were launched at the State Department, with an ambitious timetable aimed at completing the process by the end of the year.

The envisaged free trade pact would be the United States' third with a Middle Eastern country, with agreements already concluded with Jordan and Israel.

Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said the market-opening agreement would complement economic reforms underway in Morocco. He said it would make clear throughout the Middle East the United States' support for more tolerant, open, and prosperous societies in the Muslim world.

"This FTA will promote the indispensable building blocks of a free society, such as respect for the rule of law, private property rights, competition, and the accountable institutions of governance," he said. "And, this U.S.-Morocco FTA will send a powerful signal to the rest of the Muslim world that President Bush is committed to supporting the development of open, prosperous societies in all regions of the world. Arabs and Muslims can, and must, be part of the widening circle of development, openness and opportunity."

Morocco has an $11 billion import market and low tariff trading access to the European Union. The United States currently exports about a $500 million worth of goods to Morocco each year, principally aircraft, machinery, and farm products.

U.S. goods going to Morocco currently face an average tariff of more than 20 percent, while Moroccan products going to the United States are subject to an average tariff of about four percent.

The Bush administration has been making a major push for free trade accords, concluding an agreement with Chile last month and one with Singapore last week.

This month it also launched negotiations for such agreements with the five countries of the South African customs union and with five countries in Central America.