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5/19/03 - U.S.-MIDEAST FREE TRADE AREA - 2003-05-20

The dictator Saddam Hussein has been removed from power in Iraq. The extremist Taleban regime and its al-Qaida terrorist sponsors have been routed from Afghanistan. Terrorists around the world have been killed, captured, or are on the run. Reformers in the Middle East are beginning to be heard. As President George W. Bush said, "A time of historic opportunity has arrived."

Arab countries can take advantage of this opportunity -- and the need for them to do so cannot be more clear. Today, the combined gross domestic product of all Arab countries is smaller than that of Spain. As Mr. Bush said, economic progress in the Middle East will require increased trade:

"Across the globe, free markets and trade have helped defeat poverty and taught men and women the habits of liberty. So I propose the establishment of a U.S.-Middle East free trade area within a decade to bring the Middle East into an expanding circle of opportunity, to provide hope for the people who live in that region."

But free trade will only be possible, said President Bush, if there is reform. The U.S., he said, will assist Arab countries that renounce terrorism, fight corruption, and respect the individual's right to property:

"We will work with our partners to ensure that small- and mid-sized businesses have access to capital, and support efforts in the region to develop essential laws on property rights and good business practices. By replacing corruption and self-dealing with free markets and fair laws, the people of the Middle East will grow in prosperity and freedom. As trade expands and knowledge spreads to the Middle East, as women gain a place of equality and respect, as the rule of law takes hold, all peoples of that region will see a new day of justice and a new day of prosperity."

A Middle East free trade area, said President Bush, is one way that the U.S. can "use its influence and idealism to replace old hatreds with new hopes across the Middle East."