The US Senate has approved a free trade agreement with Morocco which will eliminate tariffs on 95% of bilateral trade in consumer and industrial products.
"In some ways, it sets a new standard for US trade agreements with developing countries,"Max Baucus, top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee and a staunch supporter of the legislation, said on Wednesday.
"Morocco has agreed to a high level of protection for intellectual property rights," Baucus said.
"The agreement includes state-of-the-art protections for digital copyrights and trademarks, expands protections for patents and contains tough penalties for piracy and counterfeiting," he told fellow senators on the chamber floor Tuesday.
The bill is expected to be particularly beneficial to the US grain industry. The United States accounts for roughly 60% of Morocco's total corn imports, though it has met increasing competition from Latin American exporters in recent years.
It also should provide an important new market to US wheat exporters.
Imports to increase
"The agreement creates new tariff rate quotas for wheat that could lead to a five-fold increase in US exports to Morocco. It will allow US wheat producers to compete on a level playing field with European competitors," Baucus said, adding that beef producers would also gain an important new market.
"Morocco has agreed to a high level of protection for intellectual property rights"
US Senate Finance Committee member
"Eliminating tariffs on US goods and services that reach Morocco will help strengthen American competitiveness in the Middle East and support more jobs here at home," Thomas Donohue, president and CEO of the US Chamber of Commerce, said in a statement.
US exports to Morocco currently carry tariffs of more than 20%, on average, according to the Chamber.
The United States exported more than $465m worth of goods and services to Morocco in 2003, with a nearly $80m trade surplus, the Chamber noted.
Supporters maintain the new trade agreement also would help improve labor conditions in Morocco, noting that Rabat recently enacted new domestic labour laws, including new restrictions on child labour, in anticipation of the trade deal's passage.