Trade, Energy and Progress, Here and Abroad

By July 18, 2006Trade

Congress is poised to consider legislation this week in the critical areas of trade and energy, even as conflict in the Middle East adds geopolitical punctuation to the need for action.

The House is scheduled to consider the U.S.-Oman Free Trade Agreement (FTA), approved by the Senate last month by a 60-34 vote. Oman is a small country, and the economic implications of this individual FTA are modest. However, approval would represent another step toward a broader Middle Eastern Free Trade Agreement (MEFTA), which holds great promise for U.S. manufacturing exports.

The countries embraced by a future MEFTA already account for more than $24 billion of U.S. exports annually. Combined, they represent the sixth largest U.S. export market in the world (counting the European Union as one market).

Oman is also a reliable U.S. ally in the Middle East. Rejection of the FTA would tell other countries in the region that the United States is unserious and disengaged, not just economically, but politically as well. That’s a bad message to be sending given the current troubles.

Conflict in the Middle East also adds yet another powerful argument for opening up the United States’ vast domestic energy supplies. How often have you heard people talk about achieving energy independence or security? Well, you can’t be independent or secure if you block access to your own natural gas and oil.

Last month the House passed the Deep Ocean Energy Resources (DOER) Act, which authorizes safe development of the abundant energy supplies in the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS). With its opt-in/opt-out and revenue-sharing provisions, the legislation gives states a voice in how close drilling for oil and gas may occur to their shores.

The Senate now has the opportunity to take similar, much-needed action, opening up portions of the eastern Gulf of Mexico to offshore energy exploration. An agreement by Senate leaders paves the way for a vote by granting a special, 125-mile buffer area for Florida while establishing a state revenue-sharing system.

The NAM is encouraged that Senators continue to work on a package, and we are optimistic about a final compromise with the House OCS bill.

Above all, the arguments for OCS exploration and expanded trade are economic in nature, but neither can we ignore the instability and violence that now torments the Middle East. Approving the U.S.-Oman FTA would be a vote for regional stability and economic growth.

Meanwhile, America’s manufacturers and the entire U.S. economy have a pressing need for more affordable, abundant and reliable supplies of energy. Where better to turn than our own country’s peaceful, dependable territory?