By John S. McClenahen With the July 7 signing of a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) between the U.S. and Oman, the Bush administration's goal of creating a Middle East Free Trade Area by 2013 is a step closer to reality. Oman is the last Persian Gulf nation to sign a TIFA with the U.S. The purpose of the pact is to look for ways of expanding bilateral trade and investment. In 2003, trade between the U.S. and Oman totaled $1.03 billion. According to the U.S. Trade Representative's office, TIFAs "have proven useful" in supporting economic reform in the Middle East and the negotiation of free-trade agreements between the U.S. and Bahrain and Morocco. In addition to Oman, the U.S. has TIFAs with Algeria, Egypt, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen.