U.S. Strikes Free-Trade Deal In Central America

By Agence France-Presse The United States struck a free-trade agreement (FTA) Dec. 17 with four Central American countries: El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. "Step-by-step, country-by-country, region-by-region, the United States is opening markets with top-notch, comprehensive FTAs that set the standard," U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said. The latest agreement must still be approved by Congress. Costa Rica, which had been part of the Central American negotiations, dropped out at the last minute after objecting to U.S. demands that it open up the insurance and telecommunications sectors. The Bush administration is hoping negotiations with Costa Rica will allow for all five countries to be part of the deal when it is formally adopted, a source said. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Ann Veneman said the U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) would be a boost for U.S. farmers. Veneman said she expected market access for U.S. commodities such as feed grains, rice, beef, pork, poultry, horticultural products and processed consumer-ready products. Veneman said the deal included extra protection, such as tariffs and quotas, for import-sensitive U.S. products such as sugar, dairy, peanuts and meat during a transition period. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce welcomed the Central American trade pact, saying trade with the region last year was worth nearly $22 billion. "This agreement should pave the way for a substantial expansion of business ties between the U.S. and Central America," said Dan Christman, the Chamber's international affairs representative. "The agreement is also significant because it underscores US commitment to trade liberalization in the Americas, providing welcome impetus for the Free Trade Area of the Americas negotiations." But anti-globalization activists condemned the deal. "We are against using the U.S. approach to services, the U.S. approach to investment, the U.S. approach to intellectual-property rights, all of which would restrict these countries' ability to protect their own fragile markets and expose them to devastating competition," said Fifty Years is Enough Network spokesman Soren Ambrose. Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2003

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