WASHINGTON - U.S.
Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick and ministers from Costa Rica, El
Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua today announced the launch of
negotiations on an agreement to eliminate tariffs and other barriers to trade in
goods, agriculture, services, and investment between the United States and
Central America. Working-level negotiations on this U.S.-Central American Free
Trade Agreement, or CAFTA, will begin in San José, Costa Rica, on January 27.
The participants will seek to complete the negotiations by December
"CAFTA will give
Americans better access to affordable goods and promote U.S. exports and jobs,
even as it advances Central America's prospects for development," said Zoellick.
"This FTA will reinforce free-market reforms in the region. The growth
stimulated by trade and the openness of an agreement will help deepen democracy,
the rule of law, and sustainable development. This agreement will further the
regional integration that the Central Americans themselves have begun, and
complement our vital work on the Free Trade Area of the Americas."
In addition to
kicking off negotiations, Ambassador Zoellick and the ministers announced a
number of programs to improve the capacity of Central American countries to
compete in the modern global economy. Over 50 projects will assist Central
America, including funds for computers and travel, projects to help increase
citizen input to trade negotiations, assistance to strengthen science-based food
safety inspection systems, and programs to promote cleaner production. The
President's 2003 budget request includes $47 million in U.S. capacity-building
assistance for the region - a 74 percent increase over 2002.
reached today on a structure for the negotiations, with nine rounds of
negotiations planned in 2003. Five negotiating groups will cover topics such as
market access; investment and services; government procurement and intellectual
property; labor and environment; and institutional issues such as dispute
settlement. A sixth group on trade capacity-building will meet in parallel with
the five negotiating groups.
agreed today on a special framework to immediately address sanitary and
phytosanitary issues related to agricultural trade. This special effort will
focus on resolving such problems as import bans on U.S. pork, poultry, and dairy
The United States
and Central America enjoy an increasingly productive trade partnership. U.S.
exports to the region have grown 42 percent since 1996 and totaled $9 billion in
2001-about the same as U.S. exports to Russia, India and Indonesia combined.
Imports totaled $11 billion, of which 74 percent entered duty free under the
Caribbean Basin Initiative and Generalized System of Preference
negotiations, the Bush Administration will press for broad liberalization in
market access for goods and services, including e-commerce; the elimination of
non-tariff barriers; science-based food inspection systems; strong protections
for intellectual property and for investors; increased transparency in
government regulation and procurement; strengthened capacity to protect workers
and the environment; and meaningful dispute settlement mechanisms.
American Ministers leading the negotiations are Costa Rica Minister of Foreign
Trade Alberto Trejos, El Salvador Minister of Economy Miguel Ernesto Lacayo,
Guatemala Minister of Economy Patricia Ramírez Ceberg, Honduras Minister of
Industry and Commerce Norman García, and Nicaragua Minister of Industry,
Development, and Trade Mario Arana Sevilla.
announced his intention to explore an FTA with Central America on January 16,
2002. The President formally notified Congress of his intention to begin free
trade negotiations on October 1, 2002, following passage of Trade Promotion
Authority. USTR held public hearings on November 19, 2002, at which oral
testimony from more than 20 witnesses was heard and more than 40 additional
written submissions were received.
In addition to
the ministerial launch of negotiations and press conference, Zoellick and the
Central American Ministers will meet with members of Congress at a luncheon
hosted by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas. Afterwards, they
will attend a reception sponsored by the Emergency Committee for American Trade
and the Business Coalition for U.S.-Central America Trade. That evening, the
government of Costa Rica is hosting a reception celebrating the launch.