The US-Middle East Free Trade Area (MEFTA) initiative was an ambitious plan to achieve a single free trade agreement (FTA) between the United States and all countries between Western Sahara and Iran. It was launched by George W Bush in 2003. As with the old US-ASEAN FTA plan, the idea is to build the FTA bit by bit from the bottom up. Here, in theory, that means pushing all the countries up a scale of necessary conditions: from WTO membership to a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement leading to a bilateral investment treaty and/or an FTA.

The countries targetted to join MEFTA are: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel (and through Israel, the Palestinian Authority), Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria , Tunisia and Yemen.

Bush’s MEFTA project was clearly driven by US geopolitical and “security” interests and not just economic goals. The MEFTA project directly comes up against the EU’s plans for FTAs with the Mediterranean (EMFTA) and the Gulf states.

However, while the US initially set the deadline for MEFTA at 2013, the Obama Administration seems not to have followed through with it in the way that the previous administration had envisaged.