Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- A member of the Saudi delegation negotiating the Kingdom’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) told Asharq Al Awsat his government and the United States had signed a bilateral free trade agreement and expected the U.S Congress to make an announcement on the subject next week following its ratification.
The Saudi official predicted the official signing ceremony would take place during the Kingdom’s Foreign Minister, Saud al Faisal, forthcoming visit to Washington D.C, in September. The bilateral agreement had been one of the thorniest problems facing Riyadh in the last few years as the stalemate had lasted for several years.
He added that after the ratification, Saudi Arabia would officially announce its ascension to the WTO during the international body’s 6 th Ministerial Conference to be held in Hong Kong between 13 and 18 December 2005, after the Kingdom joins the WTO General Council which will convene in Geneva on 19 October 2005.
The Kingdom was cautiously optimistic about the final phase before joining the international body fearing some member states might demand the Saudi government sign bilateral agreements as a pre-condition to its membership. The official warned that such demands risk postponing the Kingdom’s entry into the WTO for at least a year.
On the recently signed US- Saudi agreement, the source indicated that treaty benefited both countries as it promoted investment and commercial opportunities between Washington and Riyadh and ensured the long-standing relations between the two countries continued.
The bilateral agreement included sections on energy, transport, distribution, commerce, the environment, restaurants, post, agriculture, and services.
With the signing of the bilateral treaty, the only obstacle still facing Saudi Arabia remains the European objection to the pricing of liquid gas used in petrochemical industries. Sources have revealed this issue will soon be resolved especially as the US government supports Riyadh, thereby weakening the European position.
The latest talks come after the Kingdom received fourteen demands from Washington aimed at finalizing a bilateral agreement, including raising the percentage of foreign ownership in the services sector.