[DEBATE] : FTA: US reconsidering US-SACU FTA
Riaz K Tayob
riazt at iafrica.com
Thu Feb 9 06:35:43 GMT 2006
February 7, 2006
*Portman Says U.S. Re-Evaluating Interest In SACU FTA*
U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman today (Feb. 7) held open the
possibility that the U.S. would reconsider continuing formal
negotiations with members of the Southern African Customs Union over
those countries’ failure to agree to the scope of a deal.
Portman said the U.S. would continue to gauge the interest SACU
countries have in a comprehensive FTA. “We don’t want to walk away by
any means if there’s interest,” he told reporters following a Feb. 7
speech. “We will continue to be there to engage but we have to keep our
standards up high.”
Portman said the U.S. is continuing to push for an agreement that
includes eventual full market access openings in all sectors. SACU
negotiators, however, want a deal with a more limited scope than what is
included in the standard U.S. FTA. They have identified intellectual
property rights, services, labor, environment, government procurement
and investment as sensitive areas.
A full agreement covering all sectors is required under World Trade
Organization rules, according to Portman, as well as under the
fast-track negotiating legislation.
Portman also acknowledged trade preferences some of the five African
countries receive under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA)
has become a hindrance to moving free-trade talks forward. Portman
signaled current beneficiaries lack the incentive to offer concessions
in the free-trade negotiations because they are already benefiting from
preferences provided unilaterally by the U.S.
“So the question is how much further can you go beyond AGOA to provide
them with incentive to enter into an agreement,” Portman said.
Portman described these two issues as holding up the scheduling of new
talks with the five SACU countries, South Africa, Botswana, Swaziland,
Namibia and Lesotho. A USTR spokeswoman said no dates or agenda have
been set for the next round of negotiations. She said dates were still
being discussed by the two sides along with other issues related to the
U.S. trade agenda with SACU.
According to business sources, the next “mini-round” of negotiations
were expected to take place in the first week of February in Swaziland
with a full round taking place in D.C. in April.
The U.S. agreed to restart negotiations on a comprehensive free trade
agreement with SACU countries in September 2005 with the goal of
completing the agreement by December 2006. But the negotiations stalled
again late last year with SACU countries asking the U.S. to be more
flexible on the scope of the agreement.
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