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Oman Trade Agreement and Protectionism

Today the Senate approved for the second time the U.S.-Oman Free Trade Agreement, another in the now lengthy list of bilaterals. The Oman treaty also marks further outreach through trade with Arabic countries that are considered friendly to the U.S. Earlier FTAs were completed with Bahrain, Morocco, and Jordan. Increased trade and investment between the countries could result — and that would be good. But already the protectionist veil of “national security” interests was being spread by Sen. Byron Dorgan, who said in the floor debate that the agreement with Oman could open the doors to that country taking over U.S. ports.—or even the United Arab Emirates could gain port control through Oman. Remember the brouhaha about “national security” that arose when a company in Dubai, DP World Ports, planned to manage six U.S. ports? DP World Ports, controlled by the government of the United Arab Emirates — another country with which the U.S. was negotiating a trade agreement — dropped those plans amid the controversy. And the UAE dropped plans for a speedy free trade agreement with the U.S. Tit for tat. It's an added irony that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson is bound for China to discuss a host of contentious issues. He expressed worry about signs of protectionism in that country, which recently set new restrictions on foreign investors. Maybe China is just following the U.S. protectionist lead.