US Wants Central America FTA In Place ASAP
Bush Administration will act quickly once signatory countries have completed commitments
WASHINGTON, DC - 12/20/05 - The Bush Administration is prepared to implement, "as soon as possible," its recently ratified free-trade agreement with the Dominican Republic and the nations of Central America once those countries "have taken sufficient steps to complete their commitments" under the terms of the trade pact.
In a statement issued yesterday, Christin Baker, a spokesperson for the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR), said the US would like the trade pact - also known as the CAFTA-DR - "to start as close as possible to January 1, 2006, so that US and regional businesses can begin taking advantage of its benefits in the shortest possible time."
CAFTA-DR stipulates that the signatory countries are obligated to adopt and enforce new laws that protect workers' rights and the environment, as a condition for preferential access to US and regional markets.
"The United States is prepared to have the CAFTA-DR enter into force as early as January 1, but only with countries that have made sufficient progress in adopting new laws and regulations where necessary," she said.
The US "will move forward as long as at least one country is prepared, and will accommodate new entrants as they become ready. We want to reward countries as they become ready and look forward to continued progress with the others," said Baker.
Countries, she added, "can continue to enjoy existing preferences while they work with the United States to come on board. Preserving benefits during a brief transition period is a non-disruptive way to move countries over the goal line while keeping the Bush Administration's commitment to Congress to ensure full implementation of all obligations."
"To the extent possible,"the United States will seek to create a seamless transition between the Caribbean Basin Initiative-Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act (CBI-CBTPA) and the CAFTA-DR.
According to Baker, countries that have ratified the Agreement would retain their benefits under CBI-CBTPA until the CAFTA-DR enters into force for them and would retain their ability to seek retroactive duty refunds for qualifying textiles and apparel.
Moreover, US partners for whom the Agreement enters into force by April 1 can retain their full-year agricultural quotas for 2006; treatment of quotas after that date will be determined, as appropriate."
The US, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua are currently signatories to CAFTA-DR, and all of the CAFTA-DR signatories have ratified the Agreement except Costa Rica.
El Salvador was the first to ratify in December 2004. Nicaragua was the most recent to approve the pact, inking the agreement just last September.
Implementing legislation for the CAFTA-DR passed the US Senate in June and the House of Representatives in July 2005, and was signed by the President in August.
The CAFTA-DR partners agreed to a target date of January 1, 2006, for entry into force.
All the signatories recognized, however, that this was an ambitious goal, and that all countries might not have completed their implementation process by that time.
Other US free trade agreements have had a longer preparation period to get ready - typically six or seven months with only one country - so the need for additional time is not unusual.
With the exception of Costa Rica, all of the countries are working to complete the implementation process as soon as possible.
Under the so-called "rolling admissions" process, entry into force would occur on the first day of the month with a country that the USTR determines is ready by the middle of the preceding month. The intervening time will allow for a Presidential proclamation to be prepared.
CAFTA-DR forms the second-largest US export market in Latin America, behind only Mexico, buying more than $16 billion in US-made products and services.
The Bush Administration has completed FTAs with 13 countries - Chile, Singapore, Australia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Morocco, Bahrain, Oman and Peru.
Negotiations are under way with ten more countries - Colombia, Ecuador, the United Arab Emirates, Panama, Thailand, and the five nations of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU).
According to figures from the Department of Commerce, new and pending FTA partners, taken together, would constitute America's third-largest export market and the sixth-largest economy in the world.
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