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US-Andean free-trade negotiators make progress in Miami

Jul. 22, 2005

U.S.-Andean free-trade negotiators make progress in Miami


Associated Press

MIAMI - The United States, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru have agreed on what the customs procedures and competition policy should be in their proposed free-trade area, but thorny issues such as agriculture still remain before the deal can be finished, negotiators for the countries said Friday.

The U.S.-Andean Free Trade Agreement will have 22 chapters on topics ranging from market access to intellectual property rules, but the countries have so far agreed on only four, said Deputy Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Bennett Harman. Negotiators had just concluded their 11th round of talks, which began in May 2004.

Representatives for the three Andean countries were optimistic that the deal could be concluded by the end of the year and then sent for approval to the Congress in each country. Harman said he hoped that could happen because they also made progress on many of the remaining chapters, but he wouldn’t make any firm predictions.

"We prefer to say the sooner the better, but let the negotiations determine whether we’re done," he said.

Oswaldo Molestina Zavala, Ecuador’s chief negotiator, said the talks have helped ensure that the deal "is fair for all participants, and not just for one."

The three Andean nations already enjoy duty-free access to U.S. markets for thousands of products, including asparagus, cut flowers and clothing. Those breaks were given to help those countries reduce their economic dependence on illegal drug production and trafficking, but they expire next year.

The free-trade agreement would further slash or eliminate tariffs for the rest of the commerce between the U.S. and those countries, while Bolivia will likely be added to the pact. The U.S. had $23.52 billion in trade with the three countries last year, but ran a $6.97 billion trade deficit, according to the Census Bureau.

The Andean talks have fallen behind schedule, and the Bush administration has focused more recently on getting Congress to approve the Central American Free Trade Agreement. The sugar industry, labor groups and some Congress members have fiercely opposed that deal, saying it would hurt the U.S. economy. President Bush and many business groups contend it would create new markets for U.S. exports while helping those countries reduce poverty.

The Senate endorsed CAFTA last month on a 54-45 vote, but it faces near-solid Democratic opposition and only lukewarm GOP support in the House ahead of a vote planned for next week. Harman said it was too early to discuss whether an Andean agreement would have similar problems.

"We will only conclude an agreement that we are confident that we can achieve approval by our Congress," Harman said.

Negotiations have also stalled for another priority of the Bush administration — the hemisphere-wide Free Tree Area of the Americas.

 source: AP