April 18, 2006

US sees hope in Africa trade deal as talks stall

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - The United States hopes to seal a
range of deals with southern African countries to boost
investment in the region but a broader trade pact is still far
off, a senior U.S. official said on Tuesday.

Talks between the U.S. and southern African nations about
signing a free trade agreement (FTA) that would give them more
access to the world's wealthiest economy have stalled since

Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Karan Bhatia said while
the two sides had failed to break an impasse on a number of
issues, his country wanted to find other ways of kickstarting
investment in southern Africa.

"I think coming in, it's fair to say there was concern our
trade and investment dialogue with SACU countries had stalled,"
he told reporters after talks with the Southern African Customs
Union (SACU).

"Today, coming out of our conversations, we've agreed on a
plan for how to move forward that's going to lead hopefully to
near-term positive results for our bilateral relationship and
going to help set in place the building blocks to reach a free
trade agreement ... in the longer term."

He said this would include agreements that would "smooth
the flow of goods" between the region and the U.S.

He said on Monday ahead of the talks the U.S. would not
budge on issues like intellectual property, government
procurement and investment, which are important for American
companies operating in Africa.

Africans say these requirements are too difficult to meet.

SACU consists of South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Swaziland
and Lesotho. The five countries already have duty-free access
to the U.S. market for most of their exports under the African
Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).