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The Political Economy of US-Middle East Trade Policy

Imad El-Anis
The Nottingham Trent University
Imad El-Anis
The Nottingham Trent University
Open Panel

Abstract

A key US policy towards the Middle East in the past decade or so has been the pursuit of bilateral and multilateral free trade agreements (FTAs). By 2003 the Bush administration had declared a goal of achieving an overall US-Middle East FTA by 2013 which would facilitate greater multilateral economic interaction. The foundations of this policy can be found in the neo-liberal assumptions that FTAs between governments will facilitate greater trade between markets which will in turn lead to greater international economic integration. This integration will then lead to more political cooperation at the state level between governments. The United States has often used its hard power capabilities to achieve its goals in the Middle East. However, there is much evidence that suggests that within Washington’s decision-making circles the notion of using soft power to entice band-wagoning and cooperation by Middle Eastern states has gained support over the past decade. The potential for increased economic and political interdependence between the United States and the Middle East through greater economic interaction certainly exists if the neo-liberal assumptions about FTAs are correct and there is clear support for the proliferation of US-Middle East FTAs in Washington. However, key questions still exist about the level of urgency given to these agreements under Obama as compared to the Bush administration and how effective finalised agreements have been once implemented. This paper examines the importance of US-Middle East FTAs in US policy to the region under Obama and offers an assessment of the impacts on economic interaction and political cooperation of existing FTAs.