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US-Ecuador free trade agreement frozen

MercoPress | Sunday, 14 May 2006

US/Ecuador free trade agreement frozen

Ecuador’s chief trade negotiator, Manuel Chiriboga, admitted that a huge "uncertainty" surrounds the future of the free trade negotiations with United States suspended since the end of March.

In a Saturday interview with Quito’s main daily El Comercio, Mr. Chiriboga said that the Office of the United States Trade Representative still has not proposed a date for resuming the talks apparently because Washington is dissatisfied with Ecuador’s new petroleum bill.

"We continue with the uncertainty. We cannot say that the process has been shut down, nor can we say that it will come to fruition" Chiriboga said, adding that no reply has been forthcoming to a letter requesting a date for resuming negotiations.

Chiriboga had set May 15 as the final date for concluding the free trade agreement negotiations, although he admitted later that the time frame could be extended. He also threatened to resign if talks did not resume before the second week in May.

Chiriboga said he would take until next Monday to "reflect" on the situation and that Tuesday he would make a definitive statement on the situation.

"I have to balance my concern with between what will happen if Ecuador pulls out of the process and a realistic analysis of our chances of successfully concluding free trade negotiations with the United States" he emphasized.

According to the Ecuadorian media free trade talks grounded to a halt as a result of recent reforms to hydrocarbons legislation and the dispute between the government and U.S. oil company Occidental (Oxy) over the alleged violation of a contract for crude production in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

"These are the facts I must ponder. The only important sign so far are statements from high officials, both in the State Department and in the Department of Commerce" which leave open the possibility of concluding negotiations, said Chiriboga.

"That is the only positive element. But not having a date takes the situation out of the hands of the negotiating team" added Chiriboga.

United States is Ecuador’s largest trading partner.

 source: MercoPress