The United States and United Arab Emirates have postponed free trade talks set for this week, the US Trade Representative’s office said. The announcement came one day after state-owned Dubai Ports World, facing intense US political opposition, said it would sell recently acquired US assets to an American entity.

“The US and UAE are strongly committed to making progress on our FTA negotiations. In order to get an agreement that both sides can successfully implement, we need additional time to prepare for the next round of negotiations,” Neena Moorjani, a spokeswoman for the US Trade Representative’s office, said.

Moorjani downplayed the delay, saying they often happen in the course of free trade negotiations.

“This is not unusual. Just in the past few months, we’ve postponed rounds with Ecuador three times, Panama twice and Colombia once,” Moorjani said. “We continue to work on our negotiating issues” with the UAE, she said.

The Bush administration began free-trade talks with the UAE in March 2005 as part of an effort to craft a regional free-trade deal in the Middle East by 2013.

The United States already has free-trade pacts with Israel, Jordan, Morocco and Bahrain.

Congress is expected to vote this year on a free trade deal with Oman, which neighbors the UAE.

Two-way trade between the United States and UAE totaled close to $10 billion in 2005, making it the third-largest US trading partner in the Middle East behind Israel and Saudi Arabia. (Reuters)