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U.S., Dominican Republic Strike Free-Trade Agreement

By Agence France-Presse The United States struck a free-trade agreement with the Dominican Republic but kept interim protections against sugar, dairy and meat imports, the government said March 15. "The United States and the Dominican Republic today concluded a free-trade agreement that further advances trade liberalization and expands economic opportunities for America's farmers, ranchers and exporters," said Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman. Exported U.S. agricultural products to the Dominican Republic range from feed grains to rice, beef, pork, poultry, horticultural products and processed consumer-ready products. But Veneman said U.S. farmers would be shielded from key imports from the Dominican Republic. Main farm exports from the Dominican Republic are sugar, coffee, and tobacco. "We want to assure our producers that the agreement provides measures designed to effectively address import concerns for products such as sugar, dairy and meat during the transition period," Veneman said. "Depending on the products, these could include tariff-rate quotas, long-term tariff phase-outs, nonlinear tariff reductions or an import safeguard mechanism." Three weeks ago the United States signed a free-trade agreement with Australia. The pact has come under heavy fire in Australia because it, also, excludes sugar, largely maintains U.S. protection on dairy and beef produce and gives U.S. pharmaceutical firms the right to appeal measures designed to keep the cost of medicines down. The latest deal, reached after a week of negotiations, brings the Dominican Republic into the recently concluded Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). It expands CAFTA to the United States, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic. "The Dominican Republic is a large regional market, with strong ties to the U.S., and this agreement opens many opportunities for American exporters, farmers, workers, consumers and businesses, and it will promote economic growth, opportunity and prosperity in the Dominican Republic and the region," U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said. Combined total goods trade between the United States and the original five Central American CAFTA countries was $23.2 billion, according to U.S. figures. With an extra $8.7 billion in U.S.-Dominican Republic trade, the new CAFTA total is approximately $32 billion. U.S. farm exports alone to the 9 million consumers in the Dominican Republic were worth nearly $450 million last year, the United States said. Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2004

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