March 18, 2010 / 6:00 AM / 10 years ago

US Trade Rep looking to increase trade with Egypt

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk will travel to Egypt next week for talks with a key Arab ally that has long wanted a free trade agreement with the United States.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk arrives to attend a news conference with Mexico's Economy Minister Gerardo Ruiz in Mexico City, February 9, 2010. REUTERS/Henry Romero

Kirk will meet with Egyptian Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif, Trade and Industry Minister Rachid Mohammed and other Egyptian officials, his office said on Wednesday.

The trip follows President Barack Obama’s visit last year to Cairo, where he gave a speech aimed at improving U.S. relations with the Muslim world.

It comes during a rough patch in U.S.-Israeli relations over Israel’s plan to build 1,600 more homes for Jews near East Jerusalem, angering Palestinians.

Kirk has downplayed the possibility of a free trade pact with Egypt, but said earlier this month he wanted to explore other avenues for expanding investment and trade.

The two countries signed a strategic partnership plan in May to foster increased economic cooperation.

Two-way trade between the two countries was a relatively tiny $7.2 billion last year, with the United States enjoying a rare trade surplus of about $3.2 billion.

U.S. trade with Israel last year was $28.3 billion and the United States ran a $9.1 billion deficit.

The United States and Egypt were close to launching free trade talks in 2005, but that was derailed when the government of President Hosni Mubarak imprisoned liberal opposition leader Ayman Nour on forgery charges.

Nour, who said the charges were politically motivated, was released last year on health grounds after spending more than three years in jail.

The United States has free trade agreements in the greater Middle East with Israel, Jordan, Morocco, Bahrain and Oman.

Egypt does enjoy duty-free access to the U.S. market for goods produced with Israeli components and assembled within certain “qualifying industrial zones.”

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