U.S. To Launch Free-Trade Talks With Sub-Saharan African Nations

By Agence France-Presse U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick announced Nov. 5 Washington's intent to initiate talks for a free-trade agreement with the nations of the South African Customs Union. The customs group includes Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, South Africa and Swaziland. "The [U.S.] administration is committed to bringing back trade agreements that open markets to benefit our farmers, workers, businesses and families," Zoellick said in a letter to Congress. "With the Congress' continued help, we can move promptly to advance America's trade interests. We are responding to Congress' direction, as expressed in the African Growth and Opportunity Act, to initiate negotiations with interested beneficiary countries to serve as the catalyst for increasing free trade between the United States and sub-Saharan Africa and for increasing private sector investment in the region." The move comes amid criticism from the World Bank and others that rich nations are putting up trade barriers to the poorest countries, making it hard for the poor to benefit from globalization. U.S. exports to the customs union countries were about $3.1 billion in 2001, the USTR office said. The USTR recently indicated it would start free-trade talks with Morocco and five nations of Central America. In addition, Zoellick notified Congress of the U.S. intention to complete free-trade negotiations with Singapore and Chile and the Free Trade Area of the Americas. Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2002

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