In May 2003, the U.S. proposed the Middle East Free Trade Area Initiative (MEFTA) initiative, a plan of graduated steps for Middle Eastern nations to increase trade and investment with the United States and with others in the world economy, with the eventual goal of a regional free trade agreement.
The first step is for the U.S. to work closely with peaceful nations that want to become members of the World Trade Organization (WTO), in order to facilitate their accession to that body. As these countries implement domestic reform agendas, institute the rule of law, protect property rights (including intellectual property), and create a foundation for openness and economic growth, the United States will pursue specific strategies to enhance trade and investment relations with them, each strategy tailored to the relevant country's level of development.
In particular, the United States will expand and deepen economic ties through Trade and Investment Framework Agreements (TIFAs), Bilateral Investment Treaties (BITs), comprehensive Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), and other measures as appropriate. Bilateral FTAs with Israel, Jordan, Morocco, Bahrain, and Oman have already entered into effect.
The United States continues actively to support the WTO accession efforts of Lebanon, Algeria, and Yemen, and has also taken steps to reinvigorate dialogues with other key trading partners in the region, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
USTR has continued to work with trading partners in the region to implement the MEFTA initiative. The United States and the United Arab Emirates decided early in 2007 that the timing was not conducive to concluding bilateral FTA negotiations and have since sought to pursue trade and investment enhancement through a "TIFA-Plus" process; the first meeting of this new format was held in June 2007.