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Colombia sees US trade deal in October


Colombia sees US trade deal in October

By Javier Mozzo, Reuters

7 July 2006

BOGOTA, Colombia (Reuters) - Colombia’s government said on Friday it expected to sign a free trade agreement with the United States in early October after ironing out difficulties over agricultural goods in the text of the deal.

Colombia’s Trade Minister Jorge Humberto Botero said both governments smoothed out obstacles related to chicken thighs and legs, beef and sugar in a final text that respects all agreements reached when negotiations ended in February.

"I have no doubt that before November, maybe some time in early October we could have the treaty signed," Botero told reporters.

The free-trade agreement with the United States, an economy 104 times larger than Colombia, is seen as vital to assure the continued economic growth of the Andean nation.

The deal would be signed by President Bush and Colombia’s Alvaro Uribe.

"Colombia and the United States reached a total agreement in terms of the wording of the agricultural annexes of the text, respecting all the agreements reached in February," the ministry said in a statement.

Recently re-elected Uribe is one of Washington’s staunchest allies in a region where left-wing leaders have gained support blasting U.S.-backed trade policies as a failure for the impoverished majority.

The U.S. government will wait for the ratification of the agreement by the U.S. Congress and some experts say a final signing could be delayed as the legislature holds mid-term elections in November.

Colombia’s industrial sector has warned if the treaty is not signed before the end of the year, they would face large losses as the preferential tariffs given by the U.S. to Colombia expire in December. U.S. officials oppose any extension of the preferential tariffs.

Free trade agreements with Washington have become the focus of regional disputes as Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez presses his self-proclaimed socialist revolution as an alternative to U.S. influence.

Chavez, an ally of Cuba fiercely opposed to the U.S. government, recently split from the Andean Community trade bloc in protest of trade negotiations fellow members Peru and Colombia had held with Washington.