“This agreement will solidify our position as the preferred supplier of soybeans and soybean products to these Central American nations. For that we are grateful,” says ASA President Ron Heck.

Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman announced the initialing of the trade agreement between the United States and El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua Dec. 17. Proponents say it could improve and enhance trade opportunities between the United States and the four Central American countries.

These countries currently make up about a $100 million market for U.S. soybean meal and soybean oil, according to the Soybean Association.

CAFTA will immediately eliminate tariffs imposed on the exportation of U.S. soybeans, soybean meal and soybean flour, Heck said. Tariffs on U.S. exports of soybean oil bound for these countries will be reduced over a 12- to 15-year period.

“These actions are expected to improve and facilitate the exportation of U.S. soybeans and soybean products to CAFTA countries, which may assist in keeping out competitive soybean products,” he noted.

Soybean Association officials say they believe efforts to bring Costa Rica and other Latin American countries into CAFTA will commence in the near future. The additional countries include Columbia, the Dominican Republic and Panama.

The Dominican Republic is a major customer of U.S. soybean products, purchasing large quantities of soybean meal and soybean oil. U.S. exports of these two soybean products to the Dominican Republic were valued at $88 million in 2002.

“Eliminating tariffs and trade barriers that limit U.S. soybean exports is a top priority of the ASA,” says Heck. “CAFTA is good for U.S. soybean farmers, and will hopefully get even better in the weeks and months ahead. We look forward to working with the Administration to bring these other Latin American countries like the Dominican Republic into CAFTA.”

e-mail: dmuzzi@primediabusiness.com