High Hopes for Central American Trade Pact
Former USTR Zoellick says OAS, IDB cooperation are key to agreement's success
WASHINGTON, DC - 06/08/06 - A number of steps must be taken before the US -Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) can enter into force in the Dominican Republic, but the US hopes it will take place "very soon," according to Deputy Secretary of State Robert Zoellick.
Zoellick, the former US Trade Representative (USTR), made his comments at a press conference following a session of the Organization of American States (OAS) General Assembly in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.
Prior to the opening of the OAS session, he met with Dominican President Leonel Fernandez to discuss the steps necessary to implement the CAFTA.
According to Zoellick, the issues relating to government procurement, intellectual property rights and agriculture need to be worked through, but indicated that the US hopes the agreement can come into effect "very soon."
The legislatures of six of the seven CAFTA governments already have approved the trade pact. Costa Rica's legislature has yet to ratify the agreement.
President Bush signed the bill into US law in August 2005 and the US has been working with CAFTA countries to review the status of their implementation efforts.
As part of this process, US trade officials met with a Dominican delegation in Washington the week of May 29 to discuss that nation's efforts to implement the CAFTA-DR.
"So as someone who was interested in trying to give birth to this free-trade agreement, I'm obviously impatient to get it done, but it's not surprising it takes a little time," he said.
"My main interest in implementing the free-trade agreement is to help strengthen the Dominican Republic's ability to sell to the United States because I want to help expand opportunity and prosperity in the Dominican Republic."
In remarks before the opening of the OAS General Assembly, Zoellick said the session would focus, in part, on the OAS and Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) working together to strengthen democracy and development in the Western Hemisphere.
"My main message has been how we want to try to support the OAS and the IDB and other countries as they take the difficult steps of building the institutions of democracy," he said.
Washington, he said, "realizes that this also requires broadening the base of development because as you open up the political process, as has happened throughout much of Latin America, you're bringing in groups of people, indigenous, impoverished people, that frankly were shut out for centuries."
Zoellick said regional leaders must implement economic policies that foster social development, opportunity and hope for their citizens and cited the work of the US Millennium Challenge Account and US Agency for International Development (USAID) to support these efforts.
At a private meeting of regional government officials prior to the opening of the General Assembly, Peruvian Foreign Minister Oscar Maúrtua complained about Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's interference in Peru's presidential elections by Chavez's open support of Peruvian presidential candidate Ollanta Humala.
Although exit polls indicate that Humala lost a June 4 run-off election to former President Alan Garcia, the Peruvian foreign minister called on OAS Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza to offer suggestions on how to address Venezuela's interference in Peru's internal politics.
Zoellick was encouraged by Peru and other nations rejecting Venezuela's interference in their internal affairs.
"It is encouraging that the democracies of Latin America that feel that Venezuela has been infringing on their own democratic process are speaking up on their own," he said. "And this is not only Peru, but it was Nicaragua and others."
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