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Statement by Ambassador Michael Punke at the WTO Trade Policy Review of Bahrain and Oman
April 22, 2014

WTO Trade Policy Review of BAHRAIN AND OMAN

Statement by U.S. Ambassador Michael Punke

World Trade Organization
Geneva, Switzerland
April 22-24, 2014

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.  I will impinge on your rules slightly to say that the United States warmly welcomes the distinguished delegations of Bahrain and Oman, and to echo your thanks to, Ambassador Syafri Adnan Baharuddin, who is accustomed to shouldering more than his share of the burden in this organization.

As noted in the Secretariat’s report, both Bahrain and Oman have enjoyed positive growth since 2008.  Both countries are making concerted efforts through their development strategies in diversifying their economies away from just oil and gas.  For example, as we heard earlier today, Bahrain is exploring diversification opportunities in the financial services, manufacturing, and agricultural sectors, while Oman is exploring ways to increase the GSP shares of agriculture and the role that energy-intensive industries play in manufacturing diversification.

The United States enjoys a strong and positive relationship with both Bahrain and Oman, with cooperation spanning many of the economic and security issues confronting the Middle East and the world.  On the commercial front, bilateral trade continues to expand, and as we implement our Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with both countries, we look forward to further prospects for expanding our relationships.

In 2013, total goods trade with Bahrain was $1.6 billion, a significant increase from years past.  The same can be said for Oman, where 2013 goods trade totaled $2.5 billion in 2013; again, a significant increase from years past.

Our comprehensive bilateral FTAs eliminate tariffs and other barriers on substantially all goods and services trade, thereby promoting economic growth and additional commercial opportunities.  A number of the reforms that both Bahrain and Oman have undertaken to implement the FTA will also benefit their other trading partners.

The United States is pleased to be working with Bahrain and Oman and their Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) partners to strengthen our economic ties through the U.S.-GCC Framework Agreement for Trade, Economic, Investment and Technical Cooperation.

While both Bahrain and Oman have reason to be pleased with the results of their economic reform efforts to date, the United States would like to highlight several areas that we believe need greater attention.

Notifications to WTO bodies remain a consistent area of interest and concern to the United States, as they form the basis by which WTO Members communicate with one another about our trade policies and practices.  Both countries’ difficulty in submitting notifications is a recurring theme in our questions, many of which relate to areas – such as subsidies and countervailing measures, import licensing, and state trading enterprises– where notifications have not been made or where certain practices may exist that are not consistent with the information in notifications from both countries.  We encourage Bahrain and Oman to update or submit notifications, as appropriate.

For Bahrain, the United States submitted questions regarding import prohibitions and sanitary and phytosanitary measures, as well as intellectual property rights, particularly updates on enforcement efforts and recent legislation and regulations.

For Oman, we submitted questions regarding the status of its free trade zones and export finance programs, as well as intellectual property rights.  In addition, given some ambiguity regarding Oman’s administrative procedures that pertain to the interpretation of the laws and regulations that govern its country of origin marking requirements, we have requested clarification on the issue.  We have also requested clarification of Oman’s In Country Value initiative, particularly Oman’s efforts to address possible disadvantages for foreign firms versus local firms when bidding on business opportunities.

The United States would like to note the key role that a fair and transparent government procurement regime can play in attracting foreign investment.  The revised Government Procurement Agreement (GPA) came into force on April 6.  We strongly encourage Bahrain and Oman to commence accession to the GPA as soon as possible.  The United States stands ready to work with both countries on their GPA accession.  This action would be a good way for both countries to work toward enhancing their participation in the multilateral trading system, and we will be interested to hear each government’s plans in this regard.

We urge Bahrain and Oman, as well as their GCC partners, to complete the transparency review of the GCC Customs Union in the Committee on Regional Trade Agreements.  We also encourage Bahrain and Oman – and their GCC partners – to actively work toward implementation of the recent Trade Facilitation Agreement.

The United States shares a positive and supportive economic partnership with both Bahrain and Oman.  We thank both governments in advance for their efforts to respond to our questions, and we plan to review the responses carefully and to request clarifications as necessary during the course of this TPR.  We look forward to continuing our work with Bahrain and Oman, and our trading partners, to strengthen the global economy and the multilateral trading system embodied by the WTO, allowing trade and investment opportunities to expand.

We wish Bahrain and Oman successful reviews, and we look forward to further cooperation with both governments, here at the WTO and in our bilateral exchanges.  Thank you.