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    Mining Ministers from Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting in Perth mid-February agreed to work on breaking down the barriers to greater trade and investment in the minerals and metals sector. "APEC Ministers will analyse the effects that free trade in minerals and metals would have on the sector and explore practical ways to increase trade and investment opportunities," said Australian Minister for Industry, Tourism and Resources, Ian Macfarlane. According to a report in Australia's Sun Herald, the study will also explore practical ways to increase trade and investment opportunities among the 21 APEC members. "We have taken the first step to achieving a long term vision of an APEC free trade agreement," said Minister Macfarlane said.

    APEC: Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, China, Chinese Taipei, Hong Kong, China, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Russia, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, USA, and Viet Nam.

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    News release issued by the Third APEC Ministers Responsible for Mining Meeting

    APEC moves towards free trade mining

    Antara News (Jakarta) quoted 23 FebruaryIndonesian Trade Minister Mari Elka Pangestu saying the Indonesia-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement "is already 90 percent finished. It is almost the final round." She said talks with Japan would continue in Jakarta the following week.

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    RI-Japan Economic partnership agreement almost finished

    According to a 18 February report in Bangkok Post, Chutima Bunyapraphasara, director-general of the Trade Negotiations Department in the Thai Ministry of Commerce told a recent seminar that talks with India to expand the current Thailand-India FTA to include up to 7,000 new products are aimed at capitalising on Thailand's success in making inroads into the Indian market since the FTA came into force four years ago.

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    Talks propose to expand India FTA

    17 February, Kyodo News reportedthat ASEAN-Japan Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) talks will not be completed by end-March as planned, and that, according to officials, the delay is principally due to "the sluggish pace of negotiations for the liberalization of trade in goods". "March is not doable. ASEAN is looking at June or July," ASEAN Secretary General Ong Keng Yong told Kyodo News.

    ASEAN: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

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    Japan, ASEAN to miss end-March target for free trade deal

    According to a 23 February reportby news agency Xinhua, Peru and China are to start trade talks in 2007. It quotes Peru's Tourism and Foreign Trade Minister Mercedes Araoz as saying: "We are calling a meeting of technical teams at the end of March or beginning of April, and we hope to launch the negotiations with China this year."

    Peru's Foreign Trade and Tourism Ministry said in a statement mid-February that Peru and China had agreed to carry out feasibility studies for an eventual FTA. "China is open to actively developing an economic and trade relationship with Peru," China's Trade Minister Bo Xilai said in a letter to his Peruvian counterpart, reported Reuters.

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    Peru, China to start trade talks this year

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    Peru, China to view viability of free trade deal

    According to a reportin Gulf Daily News on 25 February, citing news agency Kyodo, Japan and Chile are expected to sign an FTA during the visit of Chile's Minister of foreign affairs in March.

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    Japan-Chile to sign free trade pact in March

    China Economic Net reported 24 FebruaryChinese Vice Minister of Commerce Yu Guangzhou stress on the importance of Free Trade Areas (FTA) for China's trade. "FTAs will expand rapidly over the next 10 years and economic heavyweights will become the leaders of this expansion," he told the 2007 Enterprises Development Forum in Guangzhou

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    FTAs vital for China's foreign trade: Vice Minister

    The Times of India reported 22 Februarytwo days of talks between India and Nepal in Kathmandu to review an 11 year-old bilateral trade agreement, renewable every 5 years and due to expire 5 March. It quotes officials as saying "Nepal's private sector has also started focusing on an automatic renewal of the trade treaty till a comprehensive economic package is finalised." India is Nepal's largest trade partner, accounting for nearly 70% of the volume of trade.

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    India, Nepal begin talks to review trade treaty

    A report posted by the The News International (Pakistan) 19 February says ongoing FTA dialogue between Pakistan and Malaysia has run into opposition from Pakistan's oil extractors who fear that the 20% cut in tariffs on palm oil demanded by Malaysia would deal a severe blow to local industry.

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    Pak-Malaysia free trade talks hit snags

    On five-day visit to India mid-February, EU Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner told reporters that the EU and India should make every effort to ensure the success of WTO talks, but also push for a strong bilateral agreement on trade and investment. India PRwire quotes Ferrero-Waldner as saying: "We think we also have to show leadership in WTO because I think WTO is now in a crucial moment and the European Union and India should play a very important role here […] I think our willingness to move towards negotiations of a bilateral, broad-based trade and investment agreement will complement our commitment to multilateral trade."

    At the same time, India's Zee News reported that the free movement of Indian professionals within the EU will be an agenda item of bilateral negotiations. "We appreciate that the issue of free movement of professionals is critical for India and will also feature in negotiations for FTA," Director General for Trade (European Commission) Davis O'Sullivan told reporters.

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    Top EU official pushes trade, investment pact with India
    Visa rules for professionals to ease after India-EU FTA

    Bloomberg reported 25 FebruaryEU willingness to reduce import tariffs on aluminium and petrochemicals from Gulf States to zero in FTA talks in return for an end to a limit on foreigners owning majority stakes in Gulf companies. It quotes an Abu Dhabi interview with EU Trade Commissioner Peter Mandelson: "I'm concerned about the cap on ownership of business here […] You don't want to bring a business here and find you can only own 49 percent of it.''

    Further, Arabian Business quoted an EU source announcing 20 February that ministerial-level FTA talks between the EU and GCC, originally planned for April had been delayed until May, and an experts meeting planned for February is now delayed until March. It quotes Kuwait News Agency citing GCC sources that there were differences over legal aspects of the FTA, but the two sides were making efforts to overcome the outstanding problems.

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    Gulf states must open markets, EU's Mandelson says

    GCC and EU free trade talks stall

    US Ambassador Michele J. Sison confirmedto Gulf News 20 February that US-United Arab Emirates FTA talks will continue. "The talks are not suspended," she said. What happened is that the documentation will not be ready by the March 31 deadline," yesterday. She dismissed reports on the suspension of talks over difficulties in some of the FTA chapters as "only headlines", adding, "we are still committed to these negotiations." AME Info reported 18 February that FTA talks had been suspended after both parties failed to agree on how UAE would open up its markets to US investors and banks.

    A further round of talks is expected in spring though date and venue are yet to be fixed.

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    Envoy says FTA talks to continue

    US-UAE FTA on ice

    Mid-February US Trade Representative Susan C. Schwaband the Liberian Minister of Commerce, Industry, & Trade Olubanke King-Akerele signed a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA). It provides for the setting up of a Council on Trade and Investment to address a wide range of trade and investment issues and help to increase commercial and investment opportunities.

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    United States and Liberia sign Trade and Investment Framework Agreement

    The February meeting of the EUCouncil of Ministers accepted inclusion of South Africa in its Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) negotiations with the Southern African Development Community (SADC). The Council was responding to a proposal tabled by SADC in 2006. The EU "considers that the incorporation of South Africa into the SADC EPA negotiation creates a more consistent framework for the economic integration of the region".

    SADC: Angola, Botswana, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, United Republic of Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

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    The EU welcomes South Africa in the SADC EPA negotiation

    Radio Jamaica reported 19 Februarythat the Prime Minister of Antigua Baldwin Spencer, of Dominica, Roosevelt Skerrit and of St. Vincent Ralph Everard Gonsalves have signed onto the ALBA, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, a new form of free trade agreement. One of the key aspects of ALBA, noted Radio Jamaica, is the Petro Caribe deal, which in part exchanges oil at below market price levels for a variety of services.

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    ALBA seen as a historical milestone in Caribbean-Latin America relations

    Hugo Chávez llega a la isla de Dominica para promover el ALBA, su alternativa económica (Spanish only)

    Negotiators from Colombia, Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras looked to seal an FTA during their seventh round of talks that began 18 February in Medellín. According to Colombian Vice-Minister of Foreign Trade Eduardo Muñoz, the focus of the meeting would be market access and product lists.

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    En la recta final, TLC con Centroamérica (Spanish only)

    According to Director of the Caribbean Council David Jessop, commenting in the Jamaica Gleaner on 18 February, all unresolved aspects of the Caribbean-EU Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) talks have to be completed at least in outline by the end of July 2007. Noting that Caribbean heads of government have decided that every effort should be made to comply with the agreed schedule "as long as the Region's interests were fully addressed", he quotes sources suggesting that "ministers were mindful of the need to retain the region's credibility despite the huge logistical challenge the timetable will impose on the region's still far from mature integration process".

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    July deadline for Carib/Europe economic negotiations

    28 February, El Watan quoted Smaïl Chikhoun, President of the US-Algeria Business Council as saying that an Algeria-US Trade and Investment Agreement (TIFA) is still on the cards and that the lack of meetings over the past twelve months does not mean the talks have been frozen, only a problem of schedules. El Watan opines that the US is also awaiting the conclusion of Algeria's WTO accession process to implement the TIFA.

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    Algérie-États-Unis : Le projet de zone de libre-échange reste d'« actualité » (French only)

    L'Economiste (Morocco) reports the incorporation18 February in Marrakech of the Association of Employers of the Maghreb (UME - Union maghrébine des employeurs) to group together under a single umbrella national association from Algeria, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia to focus on issues such as the economy, commerce and free trade. Its action plan, aside promoting its own work, covers the priority areas of economic integration and institutional capacity.

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    Les patrons du Maghreb créent leur union (French only)