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US, Colombia close to free trade deal: Portman


S, Colombia close to free trade deal: Portman

Wed Feb 22, 2006

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States and Colombia are close to a free trade agreement after nearly two years of talks and a push last week by Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, a top U.S. trade official said on Wednesday.

"We believe we are very close to finalizing an agreement," U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman told reporters. "I am hopeful we can finalize and agreement and move (pacts with) Peru, Colombia and Ecuador together" through the congressional approval process, he said.

Portman said the two sides were still discussing how far to open markets in a number of sensitive farm sectors, as well as food safety, and animal and plant health rules that both sides complain often become technical barriers to trade.

"I believe we’ll be able to close the gap," Portman said after a meeting with EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson on the status of world trade talks. "President Uribe was a superb negotiator for his country last week. It went very well."

The United States launched trade negotiations in May 2004 with Colombia, Peru and Ecuador in the hopes of sending an Andean free trade agreement to Congress by early 2005.

Peru finally finished negotiations in November, but Colombia and Ecuador have been unable to close mainly because of difficult agricultural issues. Talks between Ecuador and the United States are expected to resume in March.

 source: Reuters