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U.S., Andean countries take another step closer to free-trade agreement

U.S., Andean countries take another step closer to free-trade agreement

   The United States and three Andean countries have taken another step closer to developing a free trade agreement.

   The seventh round of the U.S.-Andean trade talks finished in Cartagena, Colombia, Feb. 11. The Andean countries involved in these talks are Colombia, Peru and Ecuador.

   Regina Vargo, assistant U.S. Trade Representative for the Americas, said in a conference call Monday that the United States is making “steady progress” to cementing the foundation of a free trade agreement with these three countries.

   The areas of focus during last week’s meeting were market access, government procurement, and dispute settlement. Discussions about agricultural trade liberalization also began. Vargo said the United States will hold a two-day bilateral meeting with the Andean participants in March to address agricultural trade issues.

   The next full round of U.S.-Andean free trade agreement talks will begin March 14 in Washington. Those talks will focus on intellectual property rights, investment and rules of origin, Vargo said.

   In April, the United States will participate in another round of discussions with the three Andean countries in Peru. It’s the Bush administration’s goal to reach a free-trade agreement with Colombia, Peru and Ecuador by early summer to allow time for the ratification of the agreement before the Andean Trade Preference Act expires in December 2006, Vargo said.

   Bolivia continues to participate in the trade talks as an observer. Vargo said there’s a number of issues, including a hydrocarbons law that Bolivia must work out to demonstrate its respect for the “sanctity of contracts.”

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