By John S. McClenahen Although far less ambitious than the series of free-trade agreements the U.S. has recently reached with a number of nations, a new pact between the U.S. and five central Asian nations -- Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan -- promises to provide a forum for discussing intellectual property, labor and environmental issues. The six countries signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) in Washington, D.C., on June 1. "The objective of the TIFA is to increase and diversify trade and investment opportunities between the United States and Central Asia," says Robert B. Zoellick, the U.S. Trade Representative. U.S. trade with Central Asia totaled nearly $1.12 billion in 2003. Machinery and equipment, chemicals, aircraft and agricultural products are among the U.S.'s major exports to the region. Major U.S. imports from Central Asia include mineral fuels, chemicals, textiles, metals and cotton.