Washington wants free trade deals with numerous Middle East countries as a prelude to President George Bush's ultimate goal of creating a regional free trade area by 2013.

Bahrain has its own agreement awaiting US Congress ratification and two other members of the six-state Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), Oman and the United Arab Emirates, have started talks on Saturday on free trade deals with America.

Constructive talks

"We had a very constructive meeting on several economic issues," GCC assistant under-secretary for economic affairs Mohammed al-Mazrooei said.

The GCC is a loose political and economic alliance comprising of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman and the United Arab Emirates.

In 2001, the six GCC countries agreed to adopt a single currency by 2010, similar to the euro in the European Union. They hope the move will boost regional trade and economic integration.

Aside from the planned monetary union, al-Mazrooei said the two-hour closed-door meeting also discussed the free trade agreement between the six Gulf states and the US.

New proposals

"There are new ideas and new proposals on this issue which will be discussed later this year," said al-Mazrooei adding the free trade agreement with the US and other economic issues will be taken up at an October meeting in the United Arab Emirates.

"There are new ideas and new proposals on this issue"

Mohammed al-Mazrooei,
GCC undersecretary for economic affairs

The hope is that greater trade with the United States will bolster economic growth and help support the goals of fighting terrorism and spreading democracy.

Regional powerhouse Saudi Arabia has criticised individual Gulf countries for seeking individual free trade agreements, describing them as accords that would weaken the collective bargaining power of the council and its members.