AP | Monday June 5, 2006
Colombia Kicks Off Free Trade Talks With 3 Central American Countries
By Sergio De Leon, Associated Press writer
BOGOTA, Colombia (AP) — Colombia, fresh from reaching a free trade agreement with the United States, is now trying to eliminate trade barriers with Central America.
Negotiators in Bogota kicked off talks Monday with El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras aimed at reaching a free trade deal affecting more than $200 million in annual trade with Colombia.
"We’ve set an ambitious goal of concluding talks within six months," Colombia’s Trade Minister, Jorge Botero, told a press conference.
The talks should be aided by the fact that the three Central American nations have already slashed barriers with their biggest trading partner, the United States, as part of the six-nation Central American Free Trade Agreement reached last year.
The agreement, similar to the one Colombia reached Feb. 27, has already gone into effect in Honduras and El Salvador and expected to be implemented shortly by Guatemala. Negotiators in both Colombia and the United States have yet to present the final text of their accord, which must still be ratified by each country’s legislature.
Colombia enjoys a huge trade surplus with each of the countries involved in the talks, having exported $142 million to Guatemala last year and about $50 million each to El Salvador and Honduras.
Eduardo Ayala, El Salvador’s vice economy minister and chief negotiator, said the agreement was important because it was a backdoor way to "build a free trade agreement of the Americas."
He added that if an agreement is reached, it might later be expanded to include other countries who’ve either reached or are seeking a free trade agreement with the United States, including Ecuador, Peru, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.
Those countries have declined to participate in talks, negotiators said.
U.S.-sponsored negotiations aimed at a hemispheric-wide free trade zone involving 34 nations, stretching from Canada to Chile, have largely broken down over Brazil and Argentina’s insistence that the World Trade Organization agrees first on a formula to slash the subsidies that the United States and other rich countries pay their farmers.