Ecuador to formally request date to resume US FTA talks

Ecuador to formally request date to resume US FTA talks

Apr 18, 2006

QUITO (MarketWatch) — The Ecuadorean government plans to send a formal request this week to the U.S. government to resume free trade talks between the two nations, the country’s top trade negotiator said Tuesday.

Talks being held in Washington slowed in early April when U.S. negotiators voiced concern about proposed reforms to Ecuador’s hydrocarbons law.

"We want to finish the final round of talks. We are very close to an agreement that is a priority for the country and we need to establish dates and a work schedule," Manuel Chiriboga, head of the Ecuadorean negotiating team, told Dow Jones Newswires.

Ecuador wants the final round to begin May 15 and to conclude in a maximum of eight days.

Chiriboga recognized that reforms to the hydrocarbons law sent to Congress by President Alfredo Palacio had put a brake on talks in Washington. However, he maintained that the government will seek to ensure that the controversies do not affect the FTA negotiations.

The current controversies surround reforms to the hydrocarbons law and a lawsuit between the government and U.S.-based Occidental Petroleum Corp. (OXY) in which the U.S. company is accused of a series of contract violations.

Legislators must decide by May 6 whether to approve their version of the law, which sets the government’s take of excess oil revenues at 60%, or President Alfredo Palacio’s version, which sets the figure at 50%.

Private companies have opposed the reforms, calling them unconstitutional as they violate existing contracts.

Chiriboga said he was optimistic that the FTA talks could be wrapped up, despite growing internal opposition on the part of indigenous native and left-wing groups.

"I am optimistic, this is the historic moment to close the negotiations and to sign the FTA and despite the delays I think we will achieve it," said Chiriboga.

Chiriboga’s optimism, however, contrasts with the pessimism voiced by Roberto Aspizazu, president of Ecuador’s main business association, who said that "negotiations are in limbo" because of reforms to the hydrocarbons law.

Chiriboga did not rule out that in a new formal meeting between the two countries, the Ecuadorean team could raises issues like the U.S. military base to control drug trafficking in Ecuadorean port of Manta or other geopolitical factors.

"We will put all our pans in the fire," said Chiriboga.

source : MarketWatch

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