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US and United Arab Emirates postpone free trade talks

WASHINGTON -- Free trade talks between the United States and the United Arab Emirates were postponed yesterday, a day after a Dubai company succumbed to pressure and backed out of a deal to take over operations at six major American ports.

The latest round of negotiations, which were scheduled to start on Monday in the United Arab Emirates, were postponed because both sides need more time to prepare, according to an announcement from the office of US Trade Representative Rob Portman.

''In order to get an agreement that both sides can successfully implement, we need additional time to prepare for the next round of negotiations," USTR spokeswoman Neena Moorjani said in a statement.

She would not say whether the postponement was related to the controversy over port security that engulfed the Bush administration after approval was given for a state-owned UAE company to run some port operations in the United States.

An official of the UAE government said in Dubai that the postponement had nothing to do with the ports controversy.

''This is completely unrelated and entirely a separate issue," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the negotiations. ''There is a short delay which bears no overall implications."

The UAE official said that groups from both sides will continue discussions via video and phone conferences.

The state-owned company, DP World, said Thursday that it would transfer operation of the ports to a US entity.

Moorjani said the postponement of the talks, which had been set to take place in the United Arab Emirates, was not unusual.

She noted that in the past few months, free trade talks with Ecuador, Panama and Colombia had all been postponed.

Moorjani said the United States and the United Arab Emirates remain ''strongly committed" to making progress in the negotiations on a free trade agreement. Those talks were launched in late 2004.

The Bush administration has aggressively pursued free trade deals to lower trade barriers to US exports and to support US foreign policy goals. In the region, the United States has free trade agreements with Israel and the Arab nations of Jordan, Bahrain, and Morocco. An October pact with Oman awaits approval by Congress.

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