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MANAMA: Industry and Commerce Minister Dr Hassan Fakhro yesterday said Bahrain and the US were 'moving ahead on a road of understanding' and co-operation towards achieving all the objectives of the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the two countries. Speaking at the wrap-up session of the second Bahrain-US FTA joint review committee meeting at the Gulf Hotel, he said the meeting had been successful.

"We hope in the coming year we will remove all of the current issues off the table and them be able to focus completely on the business of business," Dr Fakhro said.

The minister said the discussions were held in a congenial atmosphere and positive spirit that was conducive to obtaining mutual aspirations.

"We have all worked hard - be it the US side or my Bahraini colleagues," he said.

"It often takes time to pass laws and regulations through the legislative and administrative process but we have made these procedures happen."

He said there needs to be continuous dialogue on items on the agenda with the efforts of officials from both sides.

"We started our discussions with an overview of what we have achieved so far in terms of the benefits of the FTA and we share the opinion that the effects so far have been very positive according to the numbers and the success stories."

He said the private sector needs to be mobilised further to find ways of assisting the small and medium-sized enterprises to benefit from the agreement.

Transparency has been an underlying factor in a number of discussions on the environment and labour and both sides have been able to demonstrate their commitment to full transparency on these issues, he added.

The minister said government procurement and access of US companies to the Bahrain government procurement were discussed and Bahrain has assured the US side of its commitment to the terms of the FTA in this regard.

"We have spent time also in advising the US side on current developments within the GCC in areas related to trademarks, trade secrets, food import requirements, biotechnology labeling shelf life standards, conformity assessment and origin labeling requirements," he said.

"While Bahrain is bound by its membership of the GCC to follow its standards on these issues, we have also committed to use our best efforts and leadership within the GCC to bring about acceptance of standards and procedures that do not conflict with the terms of the FTA."

The US delegation to the meeting was headed by assistant trade representative Chris Wilson. US Ambassador Adam Ereli and Bahrain Ambassador to the US Huda Nonoo were also present.

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