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CAFTA-DR implementation could get rolling in early Feb.

CAFTA-DR, the free trade agreement between the U.S., five Central American nations and the Dominican Republic, was signed by President Bush in August. The initial target date for the agreement to go into force was January 1. U.S. officials last week noted that the implementation will begin on a rolling basis as soon as the participating countries meet their internal approvals, which could begin as early as February 1 in some cases.

By some estimates, the agreement, when fully implemented, could offer U.S. farmers and ranchers a chance to export just under $1.5 billion per year in agricultural products to the region.

Stephen Norton, a spokesman for the U.S. Trade Representative, noted in a statement Friday, "The United States has been working intensively with free trade agreement partners in Central America and the Dominican Republic in order to implement the CAFTA-DR."

He said the U.S. will implement the agreement as countries make sufficient progress to complete their commitments under the agreement.

"Several countries are close to being ready to implement but none has completed all of their internal procedures," he said.

"The United States will continue to work intensively with CAFTA-DR
partners to bring them on board as quickly as possible. At the same
time, the implementation process should not be rushed. Otherwise, the benefits of CAFTA-DR to farmers, workers, businesses and consumers of the United States and of its CAFTA-DR partners could be jeopardized," he said.

El Salvador may be the first to get on board. The country's Congress passed a legislative package to implement the CAFTA-DR on December 15.

Once the Congress sends the legislation to President Saca for signature early this month, El Salvador will have the ability to issue further regulations, and complete its internal steps and the final CAFTA implementation review process with the U.S., Norton said.

Countries involved in CAFTA-DR include the U.S., Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. All of the CAFTA-DR signatories have ratified the agreement except Costa Rica. El Salvador was the first to ratify in December 2004. Nicaragua was the most recent, in September 2005.

Under the "rolling admissions" process, entry into force would occur on the first day of the month with a country that the USTR determines is ready by the middle of the preceding month, according to information distributed by the USTR's office late last week.

CAFTA-DR, the free trade agreement between the U.S., five Central American nations and the Dominican Republic, was signed by President Bush in August. The initial target date for the agreement to go into force was January 1. U.S. officials last week noted that the implementation will begin on a rolling basis as soon as the participating countries meet their internal approvals, which could begin as early as February 1 in some cases.

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