Sun, Oct 16, 2005 - Page 11 News List

Top US executives set for FTA tour of Central America

AFP , WASHINGTON

Taking advantage of a newly approved free trade agreement, the US begins a commercial offensive in Central America this coming week, prompting concerns that local economies weakened by recent floods could represent easy targets for US corporations.

US Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez will lead a group of 18 US executives who will explore trade and investment opportunities in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

The tour, which starts in Guatemala City tomorrow, will be the first trade mission to the region since the Central American-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement was signed by US President George W. Bush into law on Aug. 2.

The delegation includes representatives of Ford Motor Company, computer maker Hewlett-Packard, Eastman Chemical Company and the Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association, among many others.

"These companies all have one thing in common: They recognize opportunity in Central America, and they are eager to begin doing business in those markets," Gutierrez said in a statement.

"Their interest will mean more investment, more trade and eventually more new jobs in the United States and in Central America," he added.

The agreement, narrowly approved by the US Congress in July, will immediately lift duties and tariffs on more than 80 percent of US consumer and industrial products sold to the region, creating the second-largest export market for US goods in Latin America.

But it also allows textiles and agricultural products widely manufactured in Central America practically unimpeded access to the US, a provision that is generating a lot of concern among farmers and textile manufacturers in southern US states that have formed the core of the opposition to the pact.

The three countries that will host Gutierrez and his delegation -- as well as Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic -- have already ratified the accord. Approval is pending in Costa Rica.

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