Panama, US FTA talks postponed

Prensa Latina, Cuba

15 January 2006

Panama, US FTA Talks Postponed

Panama City, Jan 15 (Prensa Latina) The ninth round of free trade agreement (FTA) talks between Panamanian government officials and the US wound up without a final accord, amid domestic pressures forcing to act cautiously.

The news was a great relief for a common front that started to take shape in Panama this week, although experts believe it does not mean that efforts for an FTA are over.

The sanitary criteria of products, which forced a Panamanian minister to resign, was a discordant note in negotiations and should be reconsidered before agreeing to hold another round of talks.

"Any resolution on phytosanitary and animal-sanitary issues should be based on scientific criteria and, first of all, it must ensure the protection of the animal and vegetal heritage of the nation, and the health of people," stated Panamanian sources in Washington.

According to a government communiqué, Trade and Industry Minister Alejandro Ferrer said US negotiators understood the Panama stance but sought to continue with the procedures their federal agencies used to buy and sell in the Central American country.

The domestic situation is still marked by the resignations of former Trade Minister Laurentino Cortizo and top official Santos Sanjur, who were doubtful of the sanitary issue and whose statements were backed by sectors that would directly be affected by a possible free trade deal ignoring those norms.

"There are no talks under the table and everything is being done openly for an FTA that pleases us all," President Martin Torrijos maintained Friday.

Earlier, the National Workers’ Organizing Council (CONATO), considered very close to the governing Democratic Revolutionary Party, called for the government to halt FTA talks with the US.

CONATO coordinator and Panama’s National Workers’ Union General Secretary Norma Cano assured they would start a legal struggle at the National Assembly to avoid the ratification of that accord in the event it is signed.

That entity joined the call to stage demonstrations by the National Front to Defend Economic and Social Rights (FRENADESO) and the National Farmers’ Organization (ONAGRO).

A common front may be created if CONATO, FRENADESO, the ONAGRO and the National Association of Stock breeders reach a consensus.

source: Prensa Latina