April 18, 2006

Ecuador wants US to resume free trade talks

QUITO, Ecuador (Reuters) - Ecuador said on Tuesday it
wanted to resume free trade talks with the United States
despite differences over an oil bill widely blamed for bringing
them to an impasse earlier this month.

In a television interview, Ecuador's head negotiator,
Manuel Chiriboga, said Ecuador will formally ask the United
States this week to resume the suspended negotiations.
Negotiators from both countries suspended trade talks earlier
this month.

While not on the official trade agreement agenda, a bill in
Ecuador's Congress that would limit revenues of foreign oil
companies was widely seen as the main reason for the deadlock.

"We want to point out that the bill is one thing and the
free trade negotiations are something else," said Chiriboga.

Ecuadorean officials have said U.S. negotiators voiced
concern over the bill's requirement that foreign oil companies
hand over at least 50 percent of extra revenues earned when
world prices exceed a previously agreed upon price.

Foreign companies, including U.S.-based Occidental
Petroleum, said the bill is unconstitutional and have
threatened to sue the Andean nation over it.

Chiriboga said that Ecuador would launch a diplomatic
effort in Washington to get the talks back on track and said he
wanted the negotiations to start again by May 15.

Ecuador started its trade negotiations with the United
States in May of 2004. Neighboring Colombia and Peru have
already reached trade deals with Washington.

The latest round of negotiations sparked weeks of protests
by thousands of Indian peasants last month to demand an end to
the trade talks.

The United States has so far remained silent about a
possible date to resume negotiations, Ecuador officials said.

More than 50 percent of Ecuador's exports are destined for
the United States, the country's main commercial partner.