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A few interesting tidbits: US-Peru signing may be delayed because of SPS issues; Colombia text should be out soon, delays due to ag issues; serious doubts about Ecuador completing negotiations, no new date formally set.

Peru FTA signing delayed; U.S., Ecuador take break in Negotiations
Inside US Trade - April 7, 2006

see also: Portman says CAFTA Implementation by Guatemala Months away

Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab this week said the signing of a U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement was delayed partially at the request of outgoing President Alejandro Toledo for domestic political reasons related to Sunday's presidential elections.

But Schwab also said the U.S and Peru are still negotiating over whether Peru will lift its ban on U.S. beef and poultry imposed because of the BSE and avian flu in the United States.

The two sides are negotiating over what type of beef to allow, one private-sector source said. But another source said that the problem is related to Peru demanding that it inspect each U.S. processing plant to be eligible for export. This would run counter to the U.S. demands that all countries accept the equivalence of the U.S. meat inspection system as a condition for an FTA.

In a side letter to the FTA, Peru pledged by no later than March 1 to permit the importation of U.S. beef and poultry products based on World Organization for Animal Health guidelines (Inside U.S. Trade, March 31, p. 1).

Separately, USTR Rob Portman said he would like to advance the Peru FTA to the House and Senate this spring or summer.

Labor opponents of the Peru FTA are hoping to delay congressional consideration as it moves to Congress, in the hope that a larger number of Democratic members after the November election may make passage of the agreement more difficult in its current form, according to a labor union source.

If the Peru FTA were delayed, it is more likely to move with an FTA the U.S. negotiated with Colombia and is trying to negotiate with Ecuador, the source said. House Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas (R-CA) on April 3 said the FTA is "extremely more difficult" for Ecuador than for Peru. He said it may not possible for the U.S. to conclude a deal with Ecuador.

This would likely make it more controversial because the Colombia FTA could bring to the forefront that country's anti-union violence. In contrast, USTR seems to hope that it can leverage support for Plan Colombia into support for the Colombia FTA. But among New Democrats, who Portman is believed to be courting currently for Peru support, 34 of 43 members voted in June 2005 to divert Plan Colombia spending toward rural development programs.

Portman said he hopes to notify Congress this week of his intent to sign a free trade agreement with Colombia, but would only do so if USTR completed the verification process. At this point, USTR is going through the agreement tariff line by tariff line to avoid any misunderstanding, he said.

Meanwhile, the U.S. and Ecuador this week ended their most recent negotiating session on agriculture to ensure Ecuador can consult with its constituents at home, Portman said. The two sides had hoped to conclude negotiations over last weekend, after starting agricultural negotiations on March 28, according to Portman.

The break will provide a short time time for Ecuador to consult with its agricultural interests, he said. Portman said he is "very hopeful" the U.S. and Ecuador can still negotiate a free trade agreement.

The parties tentatively plan to resume negotiations on May 7 or 8, according to an Ecuadorian official. But a USTR spokeswoman said there was no date for the resumption of the negotiations.

The Ecuadorian official said the possibility of a successful conclusion in May depends in part on what agreements the country's chief negotiator can reach with Ecuador's private-sector interests.

Negotiators have reached agreement on most agricultural issues, according to sources on both sides. Outstanding issues deal with corn, milk, rice and tuna, but a successful conclusion of these issues is possible in May, according to the official.

ecuador | peru | tlc |