U.S. To Start Free-Trade Talks With Andean States, Panama

By Agence France-Presse The United States said Nov. 18 it was opening free-trade negotiations Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said in a statement that his office, on behalf of the Bush Administration, informed Congress of the initiative. The administration hopes to start the free-trade talks by the second quarter of 2004. "We recognize they each face special challenges, but the United States is committed to their success," the chief U.S. trade negotiator said. Zoellick made the announcement while in Miami to attend a key summit of Americas trade ministers who are vying to establish the world's largest free-trade area by 2005. He said a free trade agreement (FTA) with the four Andean countries would speed economic growth and help create higher paying jobs in the United States through the tearing down of restrictive trade barriers. He said such accords also would help boost U.S. efforts to fight drug trafficking in South America. The United States imported some $9.8 billion in goods from the four countries in 2002, while U.S. trade to the countries hit some $7 billion. Zoellick also announced plans to initiate free-trade talks with Panama during the second quarter of 2004. Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2003

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