April 3, 2006

US presses Peru on farm imports before signing deal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States is pressing Peru
to remove technical barriers to U.S. agricultural products
concerning food safety before the two countries sign a
bilateral free trade deal, a senior U.S. lawmaker said on

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Bill Thomas, a
California Republican, said he hoped the issue could be
resolved in time for the pact to be signed this week.

The Bush administration gave Congress 90-day notice in
early January that it intended sign the trade deal with Peru.
This Thursday, April 6, is the earliest the pact could be
signed, but no date has been announced yet.

Thomas, whose committee has jurisdiction over approval of
trade agreements, said Peru needed to demonstrate its "clear
ability" to abide by international standards when determining
the safety of imported U.S. farm goods.

U.S. farmers and ranchers are concerned Peru could impose
"nonscientific" food safety and animal and plant health rules
to block imports from the United States, even though it has
promised to reduce tariffs under the free trade deal.

The same issue has hampered the implementation of a trade
pact Congress narrowly approved last year with five Central
American countries and the Dominican Republic.

That has prompted the Bush administration to insist Peru
and other potential free trade partners abide by the
international standards before deals are signed.

"We are working with Peru to ensure full compliance," a
spokeswoman for the U.S. Trade Representative's office said.

The United States also has reached a trade deal with
Colombia, although the Bush administration has not yet
officially informed Congress of its intention to sign it.

U.S. negotiators have been trying since late last month to
finish a third Andean region trade deal with Ecuador.

Those negotiations are continuing this week, but the two
sides are expected to need at least one more round of talks to
wrap up a pact.