The war on terrorism was high on the mind of U.S. Trade Representative
Robert B. Zoellick as he signed a free-trade agreement with the Persian
Gulf kingdom of Bahrain in mid-September. “A contest for the soul of Islam”
is raging, and “we can help” by striking trade deals that generate jobs and
reduce poverty, Zoellick said.
But Bahrain, an island nation with a population of 678,000, is an exception
in securing access to the giant U.S. market. Excluding oil, imports from
Muslim countries have increased by just 3.2 percent since 2000, their
growth suppressed by tariffs of 20 percent or more on key goods such as
textiles, according to an analysis of U.S. trade statistics.
Meanwhile, countries in the Andean region, sub-Saharan Africa and elsewhere
— granted preferential, duty-free access to the U.S. market — have
enjoyed a comparative boom, with exports to the United States rising nearly
40 percent in some cases.
The figures reflect a bias in U.S. trade rules that work against strategic
allies such as Pakistan, Egypt and Turkey. Under current rules, for
example, T-shirts made in Lesotho or Peru or El Salvador come into the
country duty-free, while shirts from Turkey or Pakistan are hit with a 20
percent tariff. Looking at trade statistics in light of the 2001 terrorist
attacks, some analysts question whether U.S. trade policy is adequately
backing the country’s national security goals”¦