Saudi set for US bilateral agreement

KSA set for World Trade Organisation membership as bilateral accord talks progress

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By  Rhys Jones Published  May 11, 2005

A senior Saudi trade negotiator met with US officials last week to finalise a bilateral accord. The move, which follows a recent summit meeting between president George W Bush and Saudi Arabia’s crown prince Abdullah, is set to pave the way for the oil exporting giant to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Chief WTO accession negotiator Fawaz Al Alamy said he hoped to reach a deal with Washington “two weeks from now”. Saudi Arabia is the world’s biggest oil exporter and one of relatively few countries still not a member of the WTO. Acting US Trade Representative Peter Allgeier said last month that Washington was close to agreement with Riyadh on tariff cuts needed for WTO membership. The two sides are believed to have reached agreement on insurance and financial sector issues — where the US had pressed for greater foreign access — as well as agriculture. The US has also pressed the kingdom in negotiations to take stronger action against the illegal copying of US-recorded products. Another obstacle has been shelf-life limits on food products that Washington says are out of line with international norms. US lawmakers have also insisted Riyadh end its boycott of Israel and step up support for US counter-terrorism efforts. A deal with the US would go a long way towards easing Saudi Arabia’s entry into the WTO, but the kingdom must still negotiate a bilateral market access deal with any of the 148 WTO members that requests one.

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