CAFTA On Hold as Signatories Miss Deadline
The Bush Administration is ''hopeful'' that action will be taken as early as February 1
WASHINGTON, DC - 01/01/06 - The six Latin American signatory nations to the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) - Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic - have failed to complete the requirements for creating a regional trade zone with the US by today's deadline.
"We are going to miss that target date because we are still working with our CAFTA partners on the implementing process," said Stephen Norton, spokesman for the US Trade Representative's office.
"January 1 was just a target date," he said. "We want to do it as quickly as possible and as soon as possible, but we have to do it the right way."
The countries involved "just need to work through it," Norton said, adding that the delay could last several months.
The US will implement the pact "on a rolling basis" as the signatory countries "make sufficient progress to complete their commitments" under the terms of the trade agreement, he said.
All the agreement's signatory countries but Costa Rica have ratified the pact.
El Salvador's Congress passed a legislative package to implement the CAFTA last month.
Once the Salvadoran legislature sends the legislation to President Saca for signature early this month, the country will have the ability to issue further regulations and complete its internal steps and the final CAFTA implementation review process with the US.
Reportedly, other obligations have forced the Dominican Republic to put off joining the agreement until at least July 1
Norton said the others need to make "technical changes in various parts of the statutes, customs procedures, intellectual property rights, telecommunications, and procurement."
He said the Bush Administration is "hopeful that as early as February 1 at least some of the countries will be ready to implement."
In the meantime, said Norton, the CAFTA countries "can continue to enjoy existing trade preferences" until full implementation takes place.
President Bush signed the agreement with leaders of the six countries in May and Congress ratified the pact in August.
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