WASHINGTON – With the Free Trade Area of the Americas Ministerial
to be held in Miami next week, U. S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick
hosted over one hundred prominent Latino business and community leaders from
across the country today at a White House event to launch the Latino Coalition for Free
Trade. Joining Zoellick will be representatives from throughout Latin America, including
the five Central American countries currently negotiating a free trade agreement
between their countries and the United States (CAFTA).
"The future of our hemisphere depends on the strength of our
commitment to free markets, economic opportunity, and democracy. Latinos in the
United States contribute daily to the prosperity of this country, and understand the
promise that these values hold for the rest of the hemisphere," said Zoellick. "We are close to
completing an FTA with five Central American countries and we are pushing for the
hemispheric FTAA. Working together with our neighbors, the United States is seeking to build
a Western Hemisphere bound together by democracy, rule of law, open investment,
networked information societies, and free trade."
Joining Zoellick at the Latino Coalition for Free Trade Launch
will be Robert de Posada, Chairman of the Latino Coalition for Trade. Attendees at will
include prominent business leaders and lead negotiators of the CAFTA agreement from Costa
Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.
The Bush administration has advanced trade with Latin America on a
regional and bilateral basis. On September 3, 2003, President Bush signed into
law a Free Trade Agreement with Chile, the first such agreement with a South
American country. Chile joined Mexico and Canada as Hemispheric free trade partners with
the United States. Next week, the United States will host the Free Trade Area of the
Americas Ministerial meetings in Miami, Florida.
The United States is currently negotiating a US-Central American
Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) with Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and
Nicaragua. On August 4, the Administration notified Congress of its intent to
also initiate negotiations with the Dominican Republic, and to seek to integrate the
Dominican Republic into the CAFTA.
The United States and the five Central American countries share
almost $25 billion in total (two-way) trade in goods. U.S. goods exports to the Central
Americans are on track to reach $11.5 billion in 2002, better than a 42 percent increase
since 1996. That total is about the same as U.S. exports to Russia, India and Indonesia
combined. The United States is expected to import $13 billion of goods from the Central
Americans in 2003, of which 74 percent entered duty free under the Caribbean Basin
Initiative and Generalized System of Preference programs.
In October the United States, through a project funded and managed
by the U.S. Department of Labor, awarded a four-year grant of $6.75 million to
the Foundation for Peace and Democracy (FUNPADEM) to help improve working conditions
its Central American free trade partners. Also in October, the U.S. Agency for
International Development (USAID) made a $500,000 contribution to the CAFTA
Alliance Fund of the Humane Society of the United States to support environmentally
sustainable and humane agriculture as well as the protection of wildlife and
habitat in Central America.
There have been eight rounds of CAFTA negotiations held so far,
with the final round scheduled in Washington DC in early December.