More than 150 senior negotiators from Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and the United States were in Atlanta June 14-18 as part of a process scheduled to hammer out a free trade agreement between the U.S. and the Andean countries. The process is to be completed in February 2005 and the next round of negotiations is to take place in Lima, Peru, July 26-30.

During a press conference at the Hilton Atlanta hotel downtown on the final day of the talks, the lead negotiators especially thanked Hemisphere Inc. and the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce for their hospitality. Both organizations are involved in Atlanta’s efforts to be chosen as the location for a secretariat of the Free Trade Area of the Americas.

But simmering under the surface of cordiality were indications that the negotiations, which focused on agriculture, intellectual property rights, electronic commerce, market access and other issues, had a long way to go before an agreement would be ready.

Surprisingly, one of the issues that surfaced for discussion at the press conference was the difficulty of obtaining visas to enter the U.S. because under U.S. policy it is not open to negotiation.

Nevertheless, Regina K. Vargo, assistant U.S. trade representative for the Americas, said “We share the desire for real and effective market access. We need to take a holistic view.”

The issue was raised by Hernando Jose Gomez, Colombia’s lead negotiator, who underscored the importance of a wide range of “technical and sales people” having access to each other’s markets if the provisions of an agreement are to be effective.

An especially contentious issue involves a Washington proposal that Colombia eliminate tariffs on agricultural imports, promoting a counterproposal from Bogota, Colombia’s capital, that the U.S. end its farm subsidies.

Ms. Vargo manages the USTR’s effort to liberalize and integrate trade in the Americas. She was the U.S. chief negotiator for the CAFTA talks with five Central American countries, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, as well as the U.S.-Chile Free Trade Agreement, which was implemented in January 2004.

Ms. Vargo is currently leading negotiations to integrate the Dominican Republic into the CAFTA and is to begin negotiations in the second quarter of 2005 with Panama and countries in the Andean region. She also is responsible for overseeing implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

For more information, call Susan Bruce at Hemisphere Inc. at 404-885-8539.