CAFTA to Begin March 1 for El Salvador

The Bush administration announced Friday that a free trade agreement with El Salvador will take effect on March 1 but five other nations who are supposed to be included in the Central American Free Trade Agreement will have to wait.

The announcement was made by U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman who praised El Salvador for the strides it had made in revising laws and regulations to meet its obligations under CAFTA.

Portman said the administration would continue to work with the five other CAFTA countries to "ensure timely and full implementation" of the agreement which would eliminate trade barriers between the United States and the six nations over the next decade.

Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua are the other nations in CAFTA, which won congressional approval after a hard-fought battle last year.

Democratic critics charged that the deal would expose American workers to unfair competition from low-wage nations and will hasten the movement of American manufacturing jobs overseas.

Latin American officials have complained that the United States is making unfair demands for changes in their regulations and laws governing such areas as the protection of copyrights and patents.

"The U.S. negotiation practices have been wretched," Enrique Lacs, Guatemala's vice minister of foreign trade, said last week.

Lacs said the U.S. negotiating team still wants several more side agreements with Guatemala including lifting restrictions on the importation of antennas and other telecommunications equipment.

Portman said in his statement that he hoped to put the CAFTA deal into effect with additional CAFTA countries soon.