WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Officials are meeting with representatives from five Central American countries and the Dominican Republic this week to follow up on the commitment by the United States to build the capacity of these countries to implement the Central America-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR).
The meetings, being held from April 26 to 29 at the Inter-American Development Bank (IADB) headquarters, continue the cooperation that began during the negotiations among the U.S. government, the CAFTA-DR countries (Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic), international donor institutions, the private sector and non-governmental organizations. U.S. assistance stemming from this cooperative effort has increased from approximately $66 million in 2003 to an estimated $80 million in 2004.
"In the spirit of the CAFTA-DR, trade capacity building provides a unique chance to support democracy in Central America and the Dominican Republic by promoting economic growth in the region through development assistance," said Acting U.S. Trade Representative Peter Allgeier. "At the same time, our assistance will help these countries implement their commitments under the agreement, which will level the playing field for American farmers and companies that look to do business in the region under transparent regimes. It is a win-win for everyone."
"Some in Congress are concerned about labor and environment issues. We are too, and that’s why CAFTA includes specific mechanisms for cooperation in the areas of labor and the environment. This week’s general trade capacity building activities are supportive of other important areas, including customs and small business development, which will make this agreement a success," added Allgeier.
This week the parties will review progress on the needs identified by the CAFTA-DR countries, and next steps that can be taken to address the priority areas. Activities include an IDB-hosted working lunch with Congressional officials, featuring Congressman Jim Kolbe, to discuss what support is needed for CAFTA-DR trade capacity building in the future. For the first time, these meetings include think-tanks and private sector organizations from the cocoa and coffee sectors to discuss how these new resource partners can contribute to the process.
The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and the U.S. Agency for International Development are co-chairs of the meeting. Other U.S. agencies include the Department of Treasury, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Commerce, the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Department of State, the Department of Commerce, the Food and Drug Administration, and the Department of Labor. Officials from the Inter-American Development Bank, the World Bank, the United Nations Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Organization of American States are also participating.
In a "first" for any free trade agreement, the CAFTA-DR includes a Committee on Trade Capacity Building in recognition of the importance of such assistance in promoting economic growth, reducing poverty, and taking full opportunity of liberalized trade. The Committee will coordinate activities and ensure that they continue to be designed according to the needs identified by CAFTA-DR member countries in their "National Trade Capacity Building Strategies." In the CAFTA-DR region, such assistance has aimed to improve the benefits to small and medium-sized enterprises, facilitate rural diversification, and improve customs procedures, among other things.
Combined total goods trade between the U.S. and the CAFTA-DR countries was $33.4 billion in 2004. Eighty percent of DR-CAFTA imports already enter the United States duty-free under the Caribbean Basin Initiative, Generalized System of Preferences and Most Favored Nation programs; the DR-CAFTA will provide reciprocal access for U.S. products and services.
The United States has completed FTAs with Bahrain, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Morocco and Nicaragua. Negotiations are under way with Colombia, Ecuador, Oman, Peru, Panama, Thailand, the five nations of the Southern African Customs Union (SACU) and the United Arab Emirates. New and pending FTA partners, taken together, would constitute America’s third largest export market and the sixth largest economy in the world.
The United States has FTAs in force with Israel, Canada and Mexico (NAFTA), Jordan, Chile, Singapore and Australia.