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US and Chile Reach Free Trade Agreement - 2002-12-11

The United States and Chile have reached agreement on a free trade pact. The White House is hailing the accord, saying it will benefit both economies.

"This is important to America's economy and to the economy of Chile." said White House Spokesman Ari Fleischer. He added that President Bush is pleased with the deal and negotiators for both countries worked long and hard and their efforts paid off.

"This agreement with Chile will mean higher, better paying jobs for Americans and is important to our outreach in the hemisphere with our friends and allies," he said.

The Bush administration has viewed a pact with Chile as an important step on the way to creating a Free Trade Zone of the Americas. A Central American free trade pact could be next. Deals with other South American countries are likely to take much longer.

The agreement with Chile, which must still be approved by the U.S. Congress, sets ambitious goals for the first few years of the pact. More than 85 percent of Chilean goods would come into the United States tariff-free in the first year. That figure would rise to 97 percent by the fourth year, with all tariffs phased out by year twelve. Bilateral trade between the two countries currently stands at $6 billion a year and is expected to rise significantly once the pact goes into effect.

First word of the accord came from Santiago where Chilean President Ricardo Lagos also offered praise for the pact, noting it was reached after 11 years of negotiations. In his words: "We started with President Bush the father, and we finished with President Bush the son."