Chile and USA agree free trade deal

After eleven years of contacts and negotiations, Chile obtained what it wanted: a bilateral deal to be treated as the first US option in South America. Both Governments announced this week the end of talks and the inception of the agreement expected by January 2004.

Under the slogan "Partners for Development" Chilean Minister of Foreign Affairs, Soledad Alvear and Robert Zoellick, US negotiator, sealed this strategic deal. Obviously, it is more important for Chile than for the USA as will allow South Americans to export 87% of its products without any kind barriers.

Chilean President Ricardo Lagos lauded the trade pact, which comes at time of economic difficulty for many countries in Latin America. "If there hadn't been an agreement with Chile, it would have been a very bad sign for the region and I think that was a very important element, at the political level, in the final rounds of negotiations," Lagos said in Santiago.

However, Lagos, following a long time Chilean tradition, preferred to negotiate alone than to join its neighbours in a common front. This attitude is far away from Lula's ideas about integration of South America, which Lagos himself warmly supported during Brazil's President-elect to Santiago last week.

Chile has now joined the exclusive club of those who have closed free trade agreements with Washington. The other members are Mexico, Canada, Jordan and Singapore. Analysts expect that contents of the deal will be the basis on which USA will discuss the Americas Free Trade Area's pact.

Hernan Etchaleco PRAVDA.Ru Argentina

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