February 27, 2006

US says reaches free trade deal with Colombia

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States reached a free
trade deal with Colombia after nearly two years of talks, the
U.S. Trade Representative said on Monday.

"An agreement with Colombia is an essential component of
our regional strategy to advance free trade within our
hemisphere, combat narco-trafficking, build democratic
institutions, and promote economic development," U.S. Trade
Representative Rob Portman said in a statement.

The United States started talks with Andean nations
Colombia, Peru and Ecuador in May 2004 and wrapped up a deal
with Peru in December. Talks continue with Ecuador while
Bolivia, still an observer nation, could become part of the
deal later, the USTR said.

USTR was expected to release details of the agreement later
on Monday. The final negotiations focused mostly on
agricultural issues, with Colombia seeking significantly more
access to the U.S. sugar market and seeking continued
protections for its own rice, poultry and potentially other
agricultural producers.

Two-way trade between the United States and Colombia was
$14.3 billion in 2005. The Andean nation of about 43 million
people was the second largest U.S. agricultural market in Latin
America last year.

Colombia already has duty-free access for much of its
exports to the United States under legislation that expires at
the end of this year. Bogota's desire to lock in those trade
benefits was a driving force behind the trade talks.