A free-trade agreement between the U.S. and oil-rich Oman took effect on Jan. 1, eliminating tariff barriers on all consumer and industrial products, including chemicals. The trade pact also provides strong protections for U.S. businesses with investments in Oman, such as Dow and Occidental. "We have worked closely with the government of Oman to ensure that the obligations and responsibilities of each party under the agreement have been met," U.S. Trade Representative Susan C. Schwab said in a statement. In addition to making all two-way trade between the countries duty-free, Schwab said the deal establishes a "secure, predictable legal framework" for U.S. investors operating in Oman. It also provides for effective enforcement of labor and environmental laws and enhances the protection of intellectual property, according to Schwab. The U.S. has similar free-trade agreements with Israel, Jordan, Morocco, and Bahrain. The American Chemistry Council calls the U.S.-Oman pact a "building block" to a larger free-trade area that can lead to economic and political stability in the region and help alleviate current U.S. energy challenges. The Middle East, an area of almost 330 million people, has a $158 billion trading relationship with the U.S.