By  on February 28, 2006

WASHINGTON — Negotiators from the U.S. and Colombia completed trade talks Monday on a pact that will ease commerce between the two nations.

The free trade agreement will next be sent to Congress, which has 90 days to review it before the deal can be approved and signed. Negotiations started in May 2004.

"An agreement with Colombia is an essential component of our regional strategy to advance free trade within our hemisphere, combat narco-trafficking, build democratic institutions and promote economic development," U.S. Trade Representative Rob Portman said in a statement.

A similar deal was reached with Peru in December and discussions with Ecuador are expected to pick up again within a month. The Bush administration hopes to get all of these agreements approved and implemented to forge a regional Andean deal.

"Colombia is the largest of the countries in the Andean pact and this obviously is a very important next step in pulling together this Andean Free Trade Agreement," Susan Schwab, deputy U.S. trade representative, said during a conference call with reporters.

Last year, Colombia shipped 155.1 million square meter equivalents of apparel and textiles, worth $618.3 million, to the U.S. Total two-way trade between the two nations tallied $14.3 billion.

Textile and apparel products would be duty- and quota-free as soon as the agreement is implemented and would be governed by a yarn-forward rule of origin. The Colombian deal does allow for single transformation for bras, which means they can include foreign fabrics and just have to be cut and sewn in the country to receive duty-free treatment. Otherwise, the deal has no allowances for foreign fabrics. Trade in cotton would also become duty-free immediately under the deal.

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