MIAMI – On the margins of the Free Trade Area of the Americas
(FTAA) meeting here, U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick met with five Central
American trade ministers today to advance the final round of negotiations for the
U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) in December in Washington, DC.
"We are getting close to finishing the U.S.-Central American Free
Trade Area, an historic agreement which will open markets and expand opportunities for all
of our peoples. Like our other free trade agreements, CAFTA is an amb itious and cutting
edge agreement that keeps pace with the modern, globalized economy. We aim to finish this
around December, so as to be able to enact it next year," said Zoellick, who visited Central
America last month. "The United States and these Central American nations share similar
ambitious goals in the ongoing FTAA negotiations, and the CAFTA agreement adds momentum
for hemispheric free trade. The CAFTA will be a vote of confidence in our Central
American partners and friends," Zoellick said.
The ministers discussed outstanding issues that negotiators must
resolve in order to conclude the negotiations next month. Their last meeting took place October
2 in San Salvador.
The United States and Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala,
Honduras, and Nicaragua began negotiations in January 2003 and have held eight rounds of talks,
one in each Central American country, as well as in Cincinnati, New Orleans, and
Houston. Individual negotiating groups are meeting between rounds to pave the way for
a final agreement. Chief negotiators met for two days last week in Washington, DC, where
the ninth and final round is scheduled to begin December 8.
The United States and the five Central American countries share
almost $25 billion in total (two-way) trade in goods. U.S. goods exports to the Central
Americans are on track to reach $11.5 billion in 2003, better than a 42 percent increase since
1996. That total is about the same as U.S. exports to Russia, India, and Indonesia combined. The
United States is expected to import $13 billion of goods from Central America in
2003, of which 74 percent enter duty free under the Caribbean Basin Initiative and
Generalized System of Preference programs. CAFTA will further open the Central American market to
U.S. goods and services.
The United States is pursuing the CAFTA agreement to help increase
trade, overcome poverty, foster development, and strengthen democracy. The
disciplines being negotiated in CAFTA are intended to promote the rule of law, especially through
its provisions for transparency that help counter corruption and create greater
business certainty. Establishing free trade between the United States and the countries of Central
America through CAFTA is an important part of the President’s vision for a closer, more
united, more prosperous and strongly democratic Hemisphere. The Administration plans to
broaden CAFTA next year to include the Dominican Republic.
CAFTA will also advance free trade in the Hemisphere by further
expanding a growing core of pro-free trade countries that includes our FTA partners Canada,
Mexico and Chile. The FTAA could foster integration in the Western Hemisphere, leading
to a $13 trillion economy with 800 million people. By making progress with our Central
American partners on CAFTA, the Administration hopes to provide momentum to trade
liberalization efforts in the rest of the Hemisphere.