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US - Panama trade deal to go into force "very soon" : USTR Kirk


US - Panama trade deal to go into force "very soon" : USTR Kirk

28 September 2012

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A long-delayed free trade agreement between the United States and Panama will soon go into force, U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk said on Friday.

"We anticipate the U.S.-Panama trade agreement will be implemented very soon," Kirk said in the prepared text of a speech he gave in Miami.

That would be good news for Caterpillar (CAT.N : Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) and other manufacturers that have waited for years for the pact to go into force. They believe it will give U.S. companies a sales advantage as Panama continues a $5.3 billion canal expansion project and the building of a $1.8 billion subway.

The economy of the tiny Central American nation grew 10.4 percent in the second quarter of 2012, compared to the same period last year, fueled by the infrastructure projects.

The agreement locks in Panama’s current duty-free access to the United States, while tearing down its barriers to U.S. goods and services exports.

Nkenge Harmon, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Trade Representative’s office, could not provide a more precise timetable for when the pact would take effect.

"Officials from the U.S. and Panama are working together to prepare for entry into force as soon as possible," she said.

Congress approved trade deals with Panama, South Korea and Colombia one year ago in October, several years after they were initially negotiated.

The pacts all date back to the Republican administration of President George W. Bush, who was unable to persuade Congress, then controlled entirely by Democrats, to approve them.

The U.S.-Korea agreement went into force in March followed by the U.S.-Colombia agreement in July.

(Reporting By Doug Palmer ; Editing by Vicki Allen)