U.S., Gulf countries agree to strengthen trade ties

WASHINGTON Thu Sep 27, 2012 11:52am EDT

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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Thursday said it has signed a framework agreement with Saudi Arabia and other members of the Gulf Cooperation Council to explore ways to boost trade and investment with the oil-rich region.

The GCC also includes Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates. Total two-way trade between the United States and the GCC totaled almost $100 billion last year, with the U.S. running about a $24 billion trade deficit.

"This important trade and investment agreement will help to grow and strengthen our economic ties with the Gulf Cooperation Council, which is a key strategic U.S. partner in the Middle East and North Africa region," U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said in a statement.

U.S. goods exports to the GCC totaled nearly $38 billion in 2011, led by vehicles, machinery, aircraft, electrical machinery, and optical and medical instruments.

The United States imported nearly $62 billion of oil, aluminum, fertilizers, organic chemicals and other goods from the region last year.

U.S. foreign direct investment in GCC countries was $23.5 billion in 2010, USTR said.

The United States already has free trade agreements with Oman and Bahrain and individual trade and investment framework agreements with the four other GCC members.

The new regional forum will complement the existing bilateral pacts, USTR said.

(Reporting By Doug Palmer; Editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid)

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