Feb. 25, 2006
EL SALVADOR: Free trade to begin in March
BY MARTIN CRUTSINGER
WASHINGTON - A free-trade agreement with El Salvador will take effect on March 1, the Bush administration announced, initially leaving behind five other Latin American nations that are supposed to be part of the Central American Free Trade Agreement.
U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman praised El Salvador for the strides it has made in revising laws and regulations necessary to meet commitments it made in CAFTA.
After meeting with President Bush at the White House, Salvadoran President Tony Saca told journalists his country was ’’absolutely prepared’’ for CAFTA and that the pact was generating more investor interest in his country.
El Salvador was one of the most enthusiastic proponents of CAFTA, and its economy depends heavily on remittances Salvadoran migrants send to their relatives.
Saca also said Bush told him El Salvador will be named a major non-NATO U.S. ally in ’’a few days.’’ The designation is reserved for Washington’s closest allies like Israel, Australia and Jordan and allows the country to cooperate on research projects with the Department of Defense on a shared cost basis, among other benefits. El Salvador is the only Latin-American country to continue to contribute troops to Iraq.
The legislation to implement CAFTA was signed into law by Bush in August after a heated congressional battle. It won House passage by only two votes last July.
It had been expected that the agreement would take effect Jan. 1, but it has run into obstacles as different countries have had trouble passing legislation needed to implement CAFTA commitments.
Portman predicted the trade agreement would soon go into effect with additional CAFTA countries, but he did not give a specific timetable of when that would occur.
U.S. trade with El Salvador last year included U.S. exports of $1.85 billion putting the country in 50th place as a market for U.S. goods. .
Miami Herald Staff Writer Pablo Bachelet contributed to this report.