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Free Trade with Central America: Summary of the U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement

 

New Market Access for U.S. Consumer and Industrial
Products


· More than 80 percent of U.S.
exports of consumer and industrial products to Central America will be duty-free immediately upon entry into force of the
Agreement, and 85 percent will be duty free within five years. All remaining tariffs
will be eliminated within ten years.


· Key U.S. exports, such as
information technology products, agricultural and construction equipment, paper products, chemicals, and medical and scientific equipment will gain immediate duty-free access to Central America.


· Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua
will soon join the WTO’s Information Technology Agreement (ITA), which removes tariff and non-tariff barriers to IT products. Costa Rica and El Salvador are already
participants.


· Under the U.S. Caribbean Basin
Trade Partnership Act, many products from Central America already enter the United States duty-free. The CAFTA will consolidate those benefits and make them permanent, so that nearly all
consumer and industrial products made in Central America will enter the U.S. duty free
immediately on effectiveness of the agreement.


Central America is a large market for U.S. products. Current U.S. exports
are more than $9 billion per year.

New Opportunities for U.S. Farmers and
Ranchers


· More than half of current U.S.
farm exports to Central America will become duty-free immediately, including high quality cuts of beef, cotton, wheat,
soybeans, key fruits and vegetables, processed food products, and wine, among
others.


· Tariffs on most U.S. farm
products will be phased out within 15 years. U.S. farm products that will benefit from improved market access include
pork, beef, poultry, rice, fruits and vegetables, corn, processed products and dairy
products.


· U.S. farmers and ranchers will
have access to Central American countries that is generally better than suppliers in Canada, Europe and South
America.


· The U.S. and Central America will
work to resolve sanitary and phytosanitary barriers to agricultural trade, in particular problems and delays in food
inspection procedures for meat and poultry. Central America will move toward recognizing
export eligibility for all plants inspected under the U.S. food safety and inspection
system.

Textiles and Apparel


· Textiles and apparel will be
duty-free and quota-free immediately if they meet the Agreement’s rule of origin, promoting new opportunities for U.S.
and Central American fiber, yarn, fabric and apparel manufacturing. The agreement’s
benefits for textiles and apparel will be retroactive to January 1, 2004.


· An unprecedented provision will
give duty-free benefits to some apparel made in Central America that contains certain fabrics from NAFTA partners Mexico
and Canada. This new provision encourages integration of the North and Central
American textile industries, and is a step to prepare for an increasingly
competitive global market.


· Apparel containing certain
fabrics and materials in "short supply" in the U.S. and Central America may also qualify for duty-free treatment. An expanded list
of such "short supply" materials was developed in consultation with industry in the U.S.
and Central America. U.S. yarn and fabric will receive reciprocal treatment in Central
American apparel entering Mexico and Canada.


· A "de minimis" provision will
allow limited amounts of third-country content to go into CAFTA apparel, giving producers in both the US and Central America
needed flexibility.

Open Services Markets Across the Region


· The Central American countries
will accord substantial market access across their entire services regime, subject to very few exceptions, using the
so-called "negative list" approach.


· Central American countries have
agreed to dismantle significant distribution barriers. Changes in the "dealer protection regimes" will loosen restrictions that lock U.S. firms into exclusive or inefficient distributor arrangements. Such laws have been used to ban imports of U.S. products when a dispute arose with a local distributor.


· Market access commitments apply
across all sectors, including but not limited to:


· Telecommunications
services


· Financial services, including
banking, insurance and securities


· Distribution services, such as
wholesaling, retailing and franchising


· Express delivery
services


· Computer and related
services


· Audiovisual and entertainment
services


· Energy services


· Transport
services


· Construction and engineering
services


· Tourism


· Advertising
services


· Professional services
(architects, engineers, accountants, etc.)


· Environmental
services


· U.S. financial service suppliers
have full rights to establish subsidiaries, joint ventures or branches for banks and insurance companies.


· Removes most local residency requirements, which had imposed
significant barriers to U.S. professionals.


· Central America will allow
U.S.-based firms to supply insurance on a cross-border basis, including reinsurance; reinsurance brokerage; marine, aviation and
transport (MAT) insurance; and other insurance services.


· Central America will allow
U.S.-based firms to offer services cross-border to Central Americans in areas such as financial information and data
processing, and financial advisory services. In addition, Central American mutual funds will
be able to use foreign-based portfolio managers.


· The commitments in services cover
both cross-border supply of services (such as services supplied through electronic means, or through the travel
of nationals) as well as the right to invest and establish a local services
presence.


· Market access to services is
supplemented by requirements for regulatory transparency. Regulatory authorities must use open and transparent
administrative procedures, consult with interested parties before issuing regulations, provide
advance notice and comment periods for proposed rules, and publish all
regulations.


· The financial services chapter
includes core obligations of non-discrimination, most favored nation treatment, and additional market access obligations. It
also includes additional provisions on transparency of domestic regulatory
regimes.

CAFTA will build momentum toward hemispheric free trade. The U.S. will begin work in January 2004 to integrate the Dominican Republic into CAFTA.

E-Commerce: Free Trade in the Digital Age


· Central America and the United
States agreed to provisions on e-commerce that reflect the issue’s importance in global trade and the importance of
supplying services by electronic means as a key part of a vibrant e-commerce
environment.


· All Parties committed to
non-discriminatory treatment of digital products; agreed not to impose customs duties on such products and to cooperate in
numerous policy areas related to e-commerce.


Important New Protections for U.S. Investors in the
Region


· The agreement will establish a
secure, predictable legal framework for U.S. investors operating in the Central American countries.


· All forms of investment are
protected under the Agreement, including enterprises, debt, concessions, contracts and intellectual property.


· U.S. investors enjoy in almost
all circumstances the right to establish, acquire and operate investments in the Central American countries on an equal
footing with local investors, and with investors of other countries, unless
specifically stated otherwise.


· Pursuant to U.S. Trade Promotion
Authority, the agreement draws from U.S. legal principles and practices to provide U.S. investors in the Central
American countries a basic set of substantive protections that Central American
investors currently enjoy under the U.S. legal system.

· Among the rights afforded to U.S. investors (consistent with those
found in U.S. law) are due process protections and the right to receive a fair market
value for property in the event of an expropriation.


· Investor rights are backed by an
effective, impartial procedure for dispute settlement that is fully transparent. Submissions to dispute panels and panel
hearings will be open to the public, and interested parties will have the opportunity to submit
their views.


State-of-the-Art Protection for U.S.
Trademarks


· Requires a system to resolve
disputes about trademarks used in Internet domain names, which is important to prevent "cyber-squatting" with respect to
high-value domain names.


· Applies principle of
"first-in-time, first-in-right" to trademarks and geographical indications, so that the first person who acquires a right to a trademark or geographical indication is the person who has the right to use it.


· Encourages the development of an
on-line system for the registration and maintenance of trademarks, as well as a searchable database.


· Requires transparent procedures
for the registration of trademarks, including geographical indications.


In all categories of intellectual property rights (IPR), U.S. companies
will be treated at least as well as Central American companies, and the
agreement makes a number of important improvements to IPR protections.

Protection for Copyrighted Works in a Digital
Economy

· Copyright owners maintain rights
over temporary copies of their works on computers, which is important in protecting
music, videos, software and text from widespread unauthorized sharing via the
Internet.


· Establishes that only authors,
composers and other copyright owners have the right to make their work available on-line.


· Ensures extended terms of
protection for copyrighted works, including phonograms, consistent with emerging international trends.


· Establishes strong
anti-circumvention provisions to prohibit tampering with technologies (like embedded codes on discs) that are designed to prevent piracy
and unauthorized distribution over the Internet.


· Ensures that governments use only
legitimate computer software, thus setting a positive example for private users.


· Requires rules to prohibit the
unauthorized receipt or distribution of encrypted satellite signals, thus preventing piracy of satellite television
programming.


· Provides rules for the liability
of Internet Service Providers (ISPs) for copyright infringement, reflecting the balance struck in the U.S. Millennium
Copyright Act between legitimate ISP activity and the infringement of
copyrights.

Patents & Trade Secrets: Stronger
Protections


· Provides for the extension of
patent terms to compensate for delays in granting the original patent, consistent with U.S. practice.


· Limits the grounds for revoking a
patent, thus protecting against arbitrary revocation.


· Clarifies that test data and
trade secrets submitted to a government for the purpose of product approval will be protected against unfair commercial use
for a period of 5 years for pharmaceuticals and 10 years for agricultural chemicals.
Closes potential loopholes to these provisions.


· Requires a system to prevent the
marketing of pharmaceutical products that infringe patents.


· Provides protection for newly
developed plant varieties.

Tough Penalties for Piracy and Counterfeiting


· Criminalizes end-user piracy,
providing strong deterrence against piracy and counterfeiting.


· Requires all Parties to authorize
the seizure, forfeiture, and destruction of counterfeit and pirated goods and the equipment used to produce them. Also provides for enforcement against goods-in-transit, to deter violators from using ports or free trade zones to traffic in pirated products. Ex officio action may be taken in border and criminal cases, thus providing more effective
enforcement.


· Mandates both statutory and
actual damages for copyright infringement and trademark piracy. This serves as a deterrent against piracy, and ensures that monetary damages can be awarded even when it is difficult to assign a monetary value to the violation.

CAFTA will lock in economic reforms, strengthen the rule of law, promote good governance and strengthen democratic institutions in Central America.

New Access to Government Procurement Contracts


· U.S. suppliers are granted
non-discriminatory rights to bid on contracts from Central American government ministries, agencies and departments.
Low-value contracts are excluded.


· Covers the purchases of most
Central American central government entities, including key ministries and state-owned enterprises.


· Requires fair and transparent
procurement procedures, such as advance notice of purchases and timely and effective bid review
procedures.


· Ensures that bribery in
government procurement is specified as a criminal offense under Central America and U.S. laws.

Groundbreaking Customs Procedures and Rules of
Origin


· Comprehensive rules of origin
will ensure that only U.S. and Central American goods benefit from the Agreement. Rules are designed to be easier to
administer.


· Agreement requires transparency
and efficiency in administering customs procedures, including the CAFTA rules of origin. Central American countries
commit to publish laws and regulations on the Internet, and will ensure procedural
certainty and fairness.


· Both parties agree to share
information to combat illegal trans-shipment of goods. In addition, the Agreement contains language designed to facilitate
the rapid clearance through customs of express delivery shipments.


Protection and Promotion of Worker Rights


· CAFTA fully meets the labor
objectives set out by Congress in the Trade Promotion Act of 2002 and makes labor obligations a part of the core text of the
trade agreement.


· Includes unprecedented provisions
that commit CAFTA countries to provide workers with improved access to procedures that protect their
rights.


· CAFTA goes beyond Chile and
Singapore FTAs through a 3-part cooperative approach to improve working conditions by:

1. Ensuring effective enforcement of existing labor
laws.


· Agreement requires that all
parties shall effectively enforce their own domestic labor laws, and this obligation is enforceable through the
Agreement’s dispute settlement procedures. 2. Working with ILO to improve existing labor laws and
enforcement.


· International Labor Organization
(ILO) found that Central American nations have laws on the books that are largely consistent with ILO core labor
standards. Central American governments are now working to address gaps
between existing laws and ILO recommendations.


· For example, in response to the
recent ILO report, several Central American countries have already drafted new legislation and regulations, dramatically increased funding for their Labor Ministries, expanded the number of labor inspectors, and streamlined procedures for creating unions.


· Costa Rica, El Salvador,
Guatemala and Nicaragua have each carried out major revisions of their labor
codes over the last decade.


· All parties reaffirm their
obligations as members of the ILO, and shall strive to ensure that their domestic laws provide for labor standards
consistent with internationally recognized labor principles.


· Agreement clearly states that it
is inappropriate to weaken or reduce domestic labor protections to encourage trade or
investment.


A comprehensive 3-part strategy to improve worker rights in Central America.

3. Building local capacity to improve worker
rights.


· CAFTA includes a groundbreaking
cooperation mechanism to promote labor rights through specialized consultations and targeted training
programs in the areas of child labor, public awareness of worker rights, and labor
inspection systems.


· Public participation, including
the input of worker and employer organizations, is called for in the design and implementation of technical
cooperation activities.


· As part of the CAFTA process, the
U.S. Department of Labor has allocated $6.7 million to educate Central Americans on core labor standards and
to improve the administrative capacity of the CAFTA countries in labor
matters.


· The U.S. Department of Labor will
also support efforts aimed at reducing


exploitative child labor. Through the International Labor
Organization’s program to eliminate the worst forms of child labor, U.S.-funded projects
will remove children from hazardous and exploitative work and provide them
with educational opportunities.

Commitments and Cooperation to Protect the
Environment


· Agreement fully meets the
environmental objectives set out by Congress in TPA. Environmental obligations are part of the core text of the trade
agreement.


· CAFTA goes beyond Chile and
Singapore FTAs in seeking to develop groundbreaking new provisions that would:


o Develop a robust public
submissions process to ensure that views of civil society are appropriately considered.


o Envision benchmarking of
environmental cooperation activities and input from international organizations in evaluating
progress.


o Enhance the mutual supportiveness
of multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) and the free trade agreement.


· Agreement commits parties to
effectively enforce their own domestic environmental laws, and this obligation is enforceable through the Agreement’s dispute
settlement procedures.


· There is also an environmental
cooperation agreement that provides a framework for undertaking environmental capacity building in the CAFTA countries
and establishes an Environmental Cooperation Commission.


· This is the first time that the
cooperation agreement has been concluded at the time of the FTA—the Chile and Singapore cooperation packages were
negotiated after those FTAs were concluded. The Parties will now work on developing a
work plan for cooperative activities.


· The environmental cooperation
agreement identifies a number of priorities:


o Strengthening the capacity to
develop, implement and enforce environmental laws;


o Promoting incentives to encourage
environmental protection;


o Protection of endangered
species;


o Promotion of clean production
technologies;

o Building capacity to promote
public participation in the environmental decisionmaking process.


· Both parties commit to establish
high levels of environmental protection, and to not weaken or reduce environmental laws to attract trade and
investment.


· Agreement also promotes a
comprehensive approach to environmental protection. Procedural guarantees that ensure fair, equitable and transparent
proceedings for the administration and enforcement of environmental laws are married
for the first time with provisions that promote voluntary, market-based mechanisms to
protect the environment.

Dispute Settlement: Tools to Enforce the CAFTA


· Core obligations of the
Agreement, including labor and environment provisions, are subject to the dispute settlement provisions of the
Agreement.


· Dispute panel procedures set high
standards of openness and transparency:


o Open public
hearings;


o Public release of legal
submissions by parties;


o Special labor or environment
expertise for disputes in these areas;


o Opportunities for interested
third parties to submit views.


· Emphasis is on promoting
compliance through consultation, joint action plans and tradeenhancing remedies.


· An innovative enforcement
mechanism includes monetary penalties to enforce commercial, labor and environmental obligations of the trade
agreement.

Trade Capacity-Building: Development and Trade
Together


· In a first for any free trade
agreement, CAFTA will include a Committee on Trade Capacity Building, in recognition of the importance of such
assistance in promoting economic growth, reducing poverty, and adjusting to liberalized
trade.


· The trade capacity building
committee will build on work done during the negotiations to enhance partnerships with international institutions
(Inter-American Development Bank, World Bank, Organization of American States, ECLAC, and the
Central American Bank for Economic Integration), non-governmental organizations, and the private sector.


· This year, in response to the
needs identified by the Central American countries, the U.S. Government provided more than $61 million in trade capacity building (TCB) assistance. Since the launch of negotiations, the Inter-American Development Bank has approved more than $320 million in CAFTA-related operations.


· Private and non-government
organizations joined in the effort on trade capacity building. The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) developed "The CAFTA Alliance" partnership to promote environmentally sustainable and humane agricultural
programs, as well as the protection of wildlife and habitat. The City of New Orleans and
the State of Louisiana worked with local universities and entrepreneurs to establish
"Idea Village International," an institute to train entrepreneurs in Central
America.


The U.S. government provided more than $61 million in trade capacity building assistance in 2003.