|Wikileaks:||View 02TEGUCIGALPA2530 at Wikileaks.org|
|Tags:||ETRD ECON EFIN EIND PREL PGOV HO|
|Redacted:||This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.|
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 TEGUCIGALPA 002530 SIPDIS STATE PASS USTR: ANDREA GASH DURKIN GUATEMALA FOR COMMATT: DTHOMPSON STATE PASS AID FOR LAC E.O. 12958: N/A TAGS: ETRD, ECON, EFIN, EIND, PREL, PGOV, HO SUBJECT: A/S REICH DISCUSSES TRADE AND INVESTMENT WITH THE HONDURAN GOVERNMENT AND PRIVATE SECTOR LEADERS; STRONG SUPPORT FOR USCAFTA 1. Summary. WHA A/S Otto Reich, accompanied by WHA/CEN Director Paul Trivelli, Ambassador, DCM, USAID Director and EconCouns, discussed trade and investment issues over lunch with Honduran government officials and private sector leaders on August 28. Both A/S Reich and the Honduran participants, led by Vice President Vicente Williams, confirmed their commitment in moving quickly on negotiations for a U.S.-Central America free trade agreement, once consultations with the U.S. Congress are completed. The Hondurans expressed great interest in A/S Reich's discussions in Nicaragua of Nicaragua's 35 percent tariff on Honduran imports. The Hondurans emphasized that there is increasing pressure to impose a retaliatory tariff and requested the USG to use its good offices to help resolve the issue. VP Williams also discussed the Maduro administration's efforts to combat corruption and improve Honduras' investment climate. End summary. 2. WHA A/S Otto Reich, accompanied by WHA/CEN Director Paul Trivelli, Ambassador, DCM, USAID Director, EconCouns and EconOff (notetaker), attended a lunch with select GOH officials and private sector leaders to discuss trade and investment issues, especially a U.S.-Central America free trade agreement (USCAFTA). A/S Reich confirmed the USG's intent to pursue free trade negotiations with Central America and emphasized the importance of resolving border conflicts to improving regional economic integration and combating corruption in creating an attractive investment climate. WHA/CEN Trivelli noted that in order to build U.S. congressional support for a USCAFTA, the GOH also needs to make progress in addressing outstanding investment disputes involving U.S. citizens. 3. Honduran participants included Vice President Vicente Williams, who leads presidential commissions on the Plan Puebla-Panama initiative and regional integration, Minister of Industry and Trade Juliette Handal, Minister without Portfolio for Investment Camilo Atala, Maquila Association President Jesus Canahuati, FIDE (Foundation for Export Promotion) President Norman Garcia, Honduran-American Chamber of Commerce (Amcham) representative Jackie Foglia and Ronald Barahona from COHEP, the private sector umbrella group. 4. Much of the discussion revolved around Nicaragua's 35 percent retaliatory tariff on Honduran imports over a Caribbean maritime border dispute. The Hondurans emphasized that the tariff poses a major obstacle to CentAm free trade negotiations with the U.S. and regional integration efforts. The Hondurans argued that U.S. involvement in the issue would be key to its resolution and requested the USG to use its good offices to that end. (Note: There is increasing pressure in Honduras' private sector and Congress to impose retaliatory measures. End note.) 5. In preparing for free trade talks with the U.S., Minister Handal noted that there has been an unprecedented level of cooperation and good will among CentAm trade ministers since President Bush announced USG interest in a free trade agreement with Central America on January 16. CentAm trade officials have worked closely with each other during preparatory meetings with U.S. trade officials and have agreed to a common framework for the negotiations. Minister Handal shared concerns about U.S. subsidies expressed by the private sector (especially the agro- industrial sector). She expects that the Honduran agriculture interests will push for exclusion of these products from the negotiations, and flagged that U.S. agriculture subsidies will have to be addressed in the discussions. 6. On private sector participation, Minister Handal noted the ministry's need for private sector market analysis in preparing for the negotiations. Speaking for Honduras' textile industry, Jesus Canahuati stated that Honduras' maquila sector is well organized for upcoming trade talks and that there is already routine communication with the U.S. textile industry and regional textile associations. He mentioned that a USCAFTA is essential for Honduras' textile industry to be able to compete after quotas are eliminated in 2005. Canahuati is also working with COHEP on organizing the negotiating positions of other Honduran industries (especially agriculture) and fostering communication within the region. Ultimately, they would like to create common region-wide negotiating positions for each sector. 7. The Amcham representative highlighted the lack of information in the private sector and civil society in general regarding USCAFTA and remarked that Amcham has a project underway to educate the public on the benefits of free trade. (Note: The regional Amchams signed an agreement with the Central American System for Economic Integration (SIECA) on August 21 for approximately USD 65,000 to carry out a series of focus groups to identify USCAFTA concerns and embark on a public relations campaign to support the free trade talks. End note.) 8. FIDE President Norman Garcia, who works closely with VP Williams on Honduras' participation in the Plan Puebla- Panama (PPP) initiative and creation of the Competitiveness Council, noted that the USCAFTA complements the infrastructure projects contemplated in the PPP initiative. Garcia stated that the PPP and USCAFTA are opportunities to improve regional economic integration and investment climate issues region-wide, to the benefit of foreign investors. 9. Picking up on a key issue during A/S Reich's visit, VP Williams highlighted the Maduro administration's efforts to reform the judicial system and combat corruption. VP Williams singled out the implementation of the Criminal Procedures Code and the new selection process for Supreme Court Justices as significant achievements for the GOH. He also noted that the Maduro administration successfully pushed through the Financial Stabilization Law, which increases the tax base and includes tougher punitive measures for tax evasion (like the temporary closure of businesses), passed a law simplifying procedures to incorporate a business and initiated a project that will increase transparency in government procurement. 10. Atala echoed VP Williams' points and added that the GOH's tax collection efforts have resulted in a 20 percent increase in tax revenues. Atala, who was President Maduro's point person on Temporary Protected Status (TPS), also noted that remittances constitute a major source of revenue for Honduras and have been increasing steadily over the last few years. (Note: Minister of the Presidency Luis Cosenza told the Ambassador recently that remittances increased by 38 percent during the first six months of 2002 compared to the first half of 2001. End note.) 11. In response to Atala's inquiry concerning the Millenium Challenge Fund, A/S Reich stated that Honduras was a good candidate for the Fund and emphasized that in designating the funds, the U.S. will evaluate a variety of factors, including a country's human rights record, the extent of investment in human capital and dedication to a free market economy. 12. Post notes that the throughout the conversation the Honduran public and private sector participants emphasized the need to put in place the conditions necessary for economic growth. They were united in their commitment to moving ahead on a Central American free trade agreement with the U.S. The Hondurans, as expected, made Nicaragua's 35 percent tariff a major issue during the lunch. Arguing that it represents the biggest obstacle to further regional economic integration and free trade talks, they pushed for the U.S. to play an active role in resolving the divisive 35 percent tariff. Almaguer
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