U.S. Starts Free-Trade Talks with Latin Nations; Bush Seeks to Lower Barriers, Protect Investor Rights
Byline: Jeffrey Sparshott, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
The United States officially opens free-trade talks today with five Central American countries, kicking off a year with an ambitious agenda for regional and worldwide negotiations to lower trade barriers and protect investor rights.
With Central America, the Bush administration is hoping to open markets and lock in government reforms in the relatively poor countries - Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua - while adding momentum to hemispherewide trade negotiations.
The Central American countries, four of which were at least peripherally involved in destructive civil wars during the 1980s or 1990s, see the talks as an opportunity to gain permanent access to the world's biggest market, to come into their own as a destination for foreign investment and to codify economic reforms in a treaty.
"This becomes an instrument of economic policy that will mean increased employment and increased opportunity in the region, which in turn will translate into democratic stability," said Miguel Lacayo, El Salvador's economy minister, in Washington for the start of talks.
Other governments are also eager to sign deals with the United States. Morocco, five southern African countries and Australia expect to start trade talks this year.
At a broader level, the United States is trying to make progress on a Free Trade Area of the Americas with 34 countries in the Western Hemisphere. And the most expansive talks are at the World Trade Organization, where 144 countries are trying to lower trade barriers.
Last year the Bush administration wrapped up a deal with Chile and announced the framework for a pact with Singapore, though that treaty is hung up on one matter: Singapore wants to be able to limit capital flows in an economic crisis.
Government leaders from the developing countries see the talks as crucial to not being left behind as others lock in access to the U.S. market and as an important way to compete against bigger global players, especially China. …