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Progress Made On Andean Trade

A 12th round of talks for the Andean Free Trade Agreement wrapped up in Colombia last week, with signs that a deal could be inked in November.

WASHINGTON — A 12th round of talks for the Andean Free Trade Agreement wrapped up in Cartagena, Colombia, last week, with indications a deal could be inked in November with a bit of elbow grease from the negotiators.

November is not a set deadline to complete the regional pact, but is an important milestone, as global trade talks under the auspices of the World Trade Organization pick up in December and Andean elections are held next year that could complicate negotiations.

Key apparel and textile issues still need to be ironed out before the U.S., Peru, Colombia and Ecuador can complete the pact. Bolivia has been observing the talks, but has yet to take part.

“It was, I think, a very good round,” said Regina Vargo, assistant U.S. Trade Representative for the Americas, during a phone briefing with reporters Tuesday. “We made concrete progress in terms of being able to reach agreement on a number of the chapters.”

Forward motion was made in the financial services, technical barriers to trade, transparency and trade remedy areas.

“We still have quite a bit of work to do,” said Vargo, who will be meeting with her Andean counterparts in Washington Oct. 19-21. In the meantime, groups of negotiators focusing on separate parts of the agreement will be getting together to move their respective talks ahead, as officials overseeing the agricultural area have been doing.

“Textiles is an area that still has quite a bit of work to do,” said Vargo, pointing to market-access concerns such as rule of origin, trade preference levels and cumulation, all of which regulate the content and production of goods.

Progress has been made on some of the more basic textile and apparel areas, such as customs cooperation and safeguards.

Brenda Jacobs, who works with the government of Colombia as an attorney with Sidley Austin, said the agreement is a valuable part of the region’s integration.