Countries in the Middle East desperately need to make more economic progress. But that will be possible, as President George W. Bush said earlier this year, only with economic reforms, including an opening to free 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.”
Some of the benefits of free trade can already be seen in Jordan. In November 2000, the U.S. and Jordan entered into a free trade agreement. Since then, as Jordanian Ambassador to the U.S. Karim Kawar said at a recent investment forum in Washington, Jordan has enjoyed significant economic growth. Last year, he said, Jordan’s gross domestic product grew nearly five percent.
Jordan’s success shows the “power of free trade,” says U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell:
“A few short years after Jordan implemented sweeping economic reforms, established qualified industrial zones, and concluded a Free Trade Agreement with the United States, Jordanians have increased their exports of goods and services to the United States six-fold. At the same time, American companies have increased their sales to Jordan by almost thirty percent.”
The U.S.-Jordan free trade agreement was built on a program of Qualifying Industrial Zones that began in 1998. Under this program, duty-free access to U.S. markets is offered for products manufactured in cooperation among Jordanian, Palestinian, and Israeli entities. These zones have created more than twenty-thousand new jobs in Jordan, many of them for women.
These are the kinds of programs that the U.S. hopes can spread throughout the region. But as President Bush made clear, the U.S. is interested in working only with those countries that renounce terrorism, fight corruption, and respect property rights. “By replacing corruption and self-dealing with free markets and fair laws,” said Mr. Bush, “the people of the Middle East will grow in prosperity and freedom.”