“Trade Representative Rob Portman said the United States still sees “tremendous potential economic opportunities” in pursuing a free trade agreement (FTA) with Egypt .”We also think that an FTA would help to support and encourage the economic reforms that are already ongoing in Egypt,” he told reporters .”But we still have both commercial and political concerns which may not allow us to launch formal FTA discussions,” Portman added .”It is an ongoing concern on the political side. It is one of the considerations we have to take into account.” . “Egyptian President ‘s government has been pushing for an FTA with the United States for years, and had hoped to launch formal negotiations early this year .But the Washington Post said Tuesday the US administration, angry at Mubarak’s “flagrant violation of his promises to lead a transition to democracy”, had withdrawn an invitation to an Egyptian trade delegation to visit here this month .The US government has sharply stepped up criticism of Mubarak’s regime after the December jailing of opposition party leader Ayman Nur, who had challenged the veteran leader in a September presidential election .The Egyptian government was also taken to task over the violence and fraud that marked the parliamentary elections after it emerged in the first round that the Islamist opposition was making substantial gains .A deal with Egypt would be a major advance for US goals to entrench democracy and free trade throughout the Middle East. The United States hopes to forge a broader trade pact encompassing the entire region by 2013 .On Thursday Oman became the fifth Middle Eastern country to sign an FTA with the world’s biggest economy .But Washington has made clear that trade liberalisation must march in step with democratic reforms .”We believe that these things are interlocked: democratic reforms, good governance, going hand in hand with the expansion of economic opportunities and the expansion of trade,” State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Tuesday . In 2004, Egypt’s exports to the United States reached 1.1 billion dollars while imports topped three billion dollars. Receiving about two billion dollars a year, Egypt is the second largest recipient of US foreign aid after  Source:http://www.AFP.com