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Transcript of U.S. - Bahrain Free Trade Agreement Signing Ceremony: U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick and Bahrain’s Minister of Finance and National Economy Abdulla Hassan Saif

(Excerpted)USTR ZOELLICK:
Thank you very much congressmen and I appreciate all of you joining us here
today. 


 


It is
a special privilege to be here with my very well respected colleague but equally
friend, the Bahraini Minister of Finance and National Economy Abdulla Hassan
Saif.  It’s a proud day for both our
countries: for we are here to sign a free trade agreement between the
United
States and
Bahrain, the
very first of its kind with a Persian
Gulf
partner. And in doing so, we are opening a new chapter in a long history between
our two countries.


 


For
more than half a century, the United
States has
come to count on a partnership with Bahrain.  Over the last decade, that alliance has
become even more crucial.  Since
1995, Bahrain has
been home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet. 
And in the years since 9/11, Bahrain has
been a valued ally in the War on Terror.


 


As the
congressman mentioned, our friendship is even older.  It started in the 1880s when a young
seminary student in New
Jersey,
Samuel Zwemmer, determined to bring modern medicine to the
Persian
Gulf.  In an apartment with a few books and a
case of medicine, he founded what eventually became the
American
Mission
Hospital.  And today, the hospital is mostly
staffed by Bahrainis, and it stands as a symbol of our century-old
friendship. 


 


In a
region that has been swept by bitter winds of extremism and scorched by fires of
hatred, Bahrain and
its’ people are an oasis of progress, prosperity, and
possibility.


 


Two
weeks ago, in New
York, just
miles from the site of the World
Trade
Center,
President Bush outlined America’s
plan for trying to prevent future attacks. 
“We are staying on the offensive – striking terrorists abroad,” he said,
“And we are working to advance liberty in the broader Middle
East,
because freedom will bring a future of hope, and the peace we all want. … Men
and women with hope, and purpose, and dignity do not strap bombs on their bodies
to kill the innocent.”


 


Bahrain is an
example of exactly what President Bush described to the American people.  This is a contest for the soul of Islam.
And only Muslims will determine the outcome.


But we
can help.


 


In
Bahrain, a
nation and its people are determined to make a future in the post-oil economy of
the 21st Century as an emerging hub of finance and services,
distribution for the whole Persian
Gulf
region. 


 


In
Bahrain, you
can glimpse the hopeful future that President Bush supports and that
Bahrain’s
leaders have chosen. Bahrain is
taking steps towards economic, political, and social reforms
altogether.


 


This
free trade agreement is the next step for a nation on the move.  Free trade negotiations often last more
than a year, but Bahrain’s
decisive embrace of open trade and free markets paved the way for these
negotiations to close in four months.


 


The
leadership of the Crown Prince and Minister Saif offers a light for the nations
around the globe that are seeking a path to modernization and prosperity.


 


Now
this ground-breaking free trade agreement will also benefit both our peoples.
Our two-way trade was nearly $900 million in 2003.  And on the very first day this
agreement, 100 percent of consumer and industrial products and 81 percent of
U.S.
agricultural exports will enter duty free.


 


Bahrain will
open its services market wider than any previous FTA partner, it will
streamline digital
trade, protect intellectual property, facilitate government procurement, and
provide for effective enforcement of labor and environmental laws. 


 


In
2003, U.S.
exports to Bahrain
totaled a little bit more than half a billion dollars.  This new trade opening will expand
opportunities for aircraft, machinery, vehicles, and pharmaceutical
products.


 


This
agreement will help provide new opportunities for
U.S.
service firms including banks, insurance, securities, telecommunications. 
U.S.
farmers will be able to expand their existing exports of meats, and fruits and
vegetables, cereals, and dairy products.


 


But,
opening trade between the United
States and
Bahrain is
about more than commerce … and even extends beyond a closer relationship between
two friends.


 


This
agreement is about a government bolstering reformers who are reclaiming the
traditions of a greater Islamic past, when confident countries were open to new
ideas and commerce thrived. 


 


Bahrain’s
reforms – including new opportunities for women, the privatization of
state-owned enterprises, and a new parliament – match its desire to become a
regional and financial service center hub.


 


I had
a chance to visit Bahrain last
year. I attended some classes at the Bahrain Institute of Banking and Finance
with which Minister Saif has been associated.  It was an incredible experience because
I got to meet young people, from all across the region, who were coming to
Bahrain to
learn how to build a future.


 


Last
year, President Bush outlined a step-by-step plan to try to achieve Middle East
Free Trade Area.  With the hand of
U.S.
economic partnership, the United
States will
embrace and encourage reformers throughout this region.


 


In
July, Congress passed and then President Bush signed legislation implementing a
free trade agreement with Morocco in
the Mahgreb, joining Jordan as
our newest free trade agreement partner. 
Reformers in Jordan,
Morocco, and
now Bahrain have
spurred a new interest in trade across the region.


 


Since
we announced those negotiations with Bahrain last
year, we’ve added Trade and Investment Framework Agreements, or TIFAs, with five
Gulf partners.  We now have TIFAs,
which are the foundation for our work towards free trade agreements, with
Algeria,
Egypt,
Kuwait,
Saudi
Arabia,
Tunisia, the
United
Arab Emirates,
Oman,
Yemen and
Qatar.


 


Last
week, I had the opportunity to consult with the Congress about moving forward
with two other possible FTAs in the Gulf -- with The United Arab Emirates and
with Oman.


 


As
Congressman Ryan said, the 9/11 Commission made a unanimous recommendation and
they urged the United
States to
expand trade with the Middle
East as a
way to “encourage development, more open societies, and opportunities for people
to improve the lives of their families.”


 


The
Commission highlighted this free trade agreement with
Bahrain, as
well as our recently enacted free trade agreement with
Morocco as
positive examples. And it looked to more. Congress now has the opportunity to
make the 9/11 Commission’s recommendation a reality by approving the free trade
agreement with Bahrain.


 


Because
of the commitment of such leaders as Congressmen Paul Ryan and Jim Turner, I’m
delighted they are here with us today, Congress has already made tremendously
progress this year on trade, passing free trade agreements with
Australia and
Morocco by
overwhelming bipartisan margins.


 


And this agreement is another
important step in America’s persistent drive to try to open
markets in both developed and developing countries around the world.  In addition to our work on free trade
with Australia and
Bahrain, and
Morocco, we’ve signed an historic free
trade agreement with the five nations of Central
America,
and the Dominican
Republic.


 


And
more are on the way.  We have
launched negotiations with Panama, the
Andean nations, Thailand, and
we’re continuing our efforts with the countries of the Southern African Customs
Union.  We reached a constructive
framework to give concrete guidance to the global trade negotiations in the
WTO.  So with countries large and
small, developed and developing, the Administration’s trade agenda is moving
relentlessly forward.


 


Of
course, we’re only here because of the hard work of the unmatched staff of USTR,
and our colleagues across the U.S.
government, as well as our partners from
Bahrain.


 


I want
to especially thank our lead negotiator, Cathy Novelli, whose spirit, whose
skill and whose commitment to America’s
partnership with our friends in the Middle
East are
making President Bush’s vision a reality on the ground.   Cathy, for me, epitomizes the
exceptional public servants at USTR who make USTR a very extraordinary
place.


 


And
all of you who know Cathy know she has no plans to pause.  I see some of her staff in the audience
nodding. This U.S.-Bahrain FTA is a model that can soon shared by
Bahrain’s
neighbors in the Gulf and I am confident that it will be.


 


I am
also delighted to see we have members of our U.S.-Bahrain Business Coalition
here today and particularly the coalition co-chair from Citigroup.  We depend on
U.S.
businesses and workers to tell their stories of trade success, and we very much
deeply appreciate the support of all of you.  Congress has to hear directly from
people in districts and states around the country about how important it is to
expand trade opportunities and how it will help grow
U.S.
employment.


 


Now
Bahrain is a
small land, but it’s the birthplace of some very big ideas that we think are
going to influence the course of nations throughout the Persian
Gulf.  That region has been vital to the
interests of the United
States for
more than 150 years.  Even before
issues of energy and international terrorism focused global attention on the
Middle
East,
U.S.
leaders had recognized the importance of trade with the nations of the Gulf and
sought treaties to try to encourage two-way commerce.


 


Indeed,
all the way back in the 1850s, when the
United
States first
opened trade negotiations with a Gulf nation,
Bahrain took
center stage in a different way.  It
turned out that the Persian Shah was interested in signing a commercial treaty,
but he had a price:  He wanted the
United
States to
aid his planned attacks on Bahrain.  And the American negotiator, Carroll
Spence, I am proud to say refused to even consider the
proposal.


 


So in
the years since that first trade emissary passed through the Straights of
Hormuz, and our relationship with these Gulf nations has grown only become more
important and Bahrain has
been the center of that.


 


Just
as in the 1850s, the United
States and
Bahrain share
an interest in peace, and prosperity, and opportunity in the
Middle
East.  And now we are embarking on a new
chapter in our relationship. 
Because as we deepen our ties with a new level of economic openness, we
sign this agreement as a symbol of our friendship and as a shining example for
others to follow.


 


Thank
you.


 


MODERATOR: The
Minister of Finance and National Economy of
Bahrain.


 


MINISTER SAIF: Really, I find myself very
speechless because all the comments and the kind remarks that I heard, I cannot
match these remarks.  But let me
begin by really extending my thanks and gratitude to the Honorable Congressman
Paul Ryan and Jim Turner, and of course to my close friend and associate the
Honorable Ambassador Robert Zoellick and the Honorable Ms. Catherine Novelli for
an excellent job that she has led the
U.
S. team for our negotiations.  Distinguished guests, ladies and
gentlemen, and thanks go to you as well for being here sharing this historical
moment with us.


 


May I at the beginning have the
honor of conveying best wishes to you all from His Majesty the King Hamad bin
Isa Al Khalifa, His Highness Prime Minister Khalifa bin Salman Al-Khalifa, and
His Highness, the Crowned Prince Commander and Chief of the Bahraini Defense
Salman bin Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa
and the people of
Bahrain.  It is really an historical opportunity,
but I would be unfair at the outset not to thank our two teams of negotiators
from the United
States and
Bahrain for their continuous dedication
and hard work that made the United
States and the
Kingdom of Bahrain free trade agreement a
reality.  They worked tirelessly to
realize this historical moment.


 


I would like to thank the
co-chairs of the Bahrain-Congressional Congress, the Honorable Paul Ryan and Jim
Turner and the Honorable member of the Bahrain-Congressional Caucus.  I would also like to extend my
appreciation and deep gratitude to the co-chairs of the US-Bahrain trade
agreement coalition Mr. Lionel Johnson of Citigroup and William Rice of
Alcoa.  That coalition would not
have been to been functional, however, without the continuous efforts of the
core secretariat.  The Business
Council for International Understanding, the National Foreign Trade Council, the
National US - Arab Chamber of Commerce, and members of different corporations
and companies.  I would like also to
address my appreciation to the embassies of both countries, the US Embassy in
Bahrain and the Embassy of
Bahrain in
Washington and the Office of the Economic
Representative for their hard work and dedication to achieving this agreement.


 


Our success, Honorable Ambassador
Zoellick, is the result of a strong commitment by the political leadership in
both countries.  To develop further
the two nations with a strong historical relationship.  It is with great honor and great sense
of history that I have the privilege to stand here at this magnificent place,
the Indian Treaty Room of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building to have signed this
US trade agreement. 


 


The signing of this free trade
agreement between the governments of the
United
States.


 


 


The signing of this Free Trade
Agreement between the government of the
United States of
America and the
Kingdom of Bahrain is the capstone of five millennia
of trade and commerce.


 


According to scholarly sources,
the islands which now constitute the Kingdom of Bahrain first stepped onto the stage of
history some 5,000 years ago as the center of one of the great trading empires
of the ancient world.


 


This was the civilization of
Dilmun which developed as the regional center of trade and commerce because of
its location along the trade routes linking Mesopotamia with the
Indus Valley. 


 


It is not without significance
that Bahrain still finds itself as the most
important gateway to the region sitting along the potentially crucial trade
route between a resurgent Iraq and the great Indian-Pakistani
subcontinent. 


 


Although a formalized Gulf
Cooperation Council (GCC) would not be instituted until deep into the
20th Century; Bahrain’s ties and other
Gulf
States over the centuries have made
trade among and between them a principal activities.


 


In the early decades of the
20th centuries, oil was discovered in
Bahrain.  While the amount of oil which sits
beneath Bahrain is small by Middle Eastern standards, it provide just enough
revenue alone with man-made economic and social policies to allow the standard
of living in Bahrain to rise quickly while maintaining a close focus on the
traditional trading activities which has sustained Bahrain for thousands of
years.  According to the recent
figures, the petroleum industry accounts for less than 20%, to be exact 15% of
our GDP. With more than 84% representative of the services, trade and
manufacturing. This is a good indication, how the economy of
Bahrain is
diversified.


 


Bahrain sought and gained its
independence on 15 August,
1971.
Beginning in 1975,  many financial
institutions began to look for a stable base in a troubled Middle Eastern
region.  The natural choice was
Bahrain.  Building on the long history of trade
and commerce, it was an easy step for most of the world’s banking giants to move
their operations into Bahrain.


 


A concerted effort to upgrade
Bahrain’s legal, social, and
technological infrastructures has allowed the financial industry to flourish
with confidence in an environment of transparency of transactions, of
highly-developed commercial law and of culture which not only permits, but also
encourage the inclusion of all people at all levels.


 


Even in these times of
instantaneous communications, Bahrain’s unique combination of location
and history permits easy access to clients and home offices.  It is often said by senior financial
officers that in Bahrain, we can do business with both
Tokyo and
New
York during a full working
day.


 


According to recent studies, the
banking sector today has an asset of some $108 billion, of which the offshore
sector accounts for almost $90 and the daily foreign exchange transaction of all
Bahraini's financial institutions totals approximately $4 billion US
dollars.


 


Bahrain is now home to some 362 financial
institutions which include banking units, representative offices, money and
foreign exchange broker, insurance companies and reinsurance.
Bahrain is (inaudible) the financial
capital of the Middle
East.


 


The signing of this Free Trade
Agreement is another crucial step in the long process of enhanced trade and
commerce in Bahrain.  But it is also important to mention the
long and significant history of culture and social progress of which Bahraini’s
are justifiably proud.


 


The new Constitution of the
Kingdom of Bahrain which was approved by the Bahraini people in early 2001
provides for universal suffrage for everyone over 18 years of age; an
independent judiciary; a bi-cameral legislature which includes the Shura Council
appointed by His Majesty, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and the House of
Deputies, freely elected for four-year terms. October 2002 marked the first time
that women in the Gulf monarchy could vote or run for national office. 


 


Bahrain continues the process of reform
based on a commitment to the democratic value and social justice. In the United
Nations’ Development Index which ranks nations on a variety of human development
axes, Bahrain is number 36 out of 174 nations
included in the survey, ahead of all Arab countries.


 


The people of
Bahrain have embraced
America since 1893 when the first
American (inaudible) was filled by American missionaries in
Manama. The US Navy’s Fifth Fleet is
based in Bahrain continuing a tradition which was
begun in January 1,
1949.


 


In the run-up to the 1991 Gulf
War, Bahrain along with other allies
participated with the U.S. in liberating
Kuwait and fought against terrorism side
by side to the U.S. today. Today in the
reconstruction on Iraq,
Bahrain stood fast to help
America in this quest.


 


And so Honorable Ambassador
Zoellick, we come together today in celebration of another major step on the
long, proud history of Bahrain and the
United
States.  The signing of this Free Trade Agreement
today will send a strong and very important signal not just to the Gulf region,
but around the world that nations which are at the forefront of technology, of
democracy, and of freedom will also be at the front of trade and
commerce.


 


That, ladies and gentlemen, is a
worthy goal for all people of all nations.


 


Thank you very much.