NU Online News Service, Dec. 19, 2003, 1:27 p.m. EST – The final version of the U.S.-Central American Free Trade Agreement includes a section that refers specifically to free trade in insurance services, according to a summary on the Web site of the U.S. Trade Representative.[@@]

In a section on “access to services,” the summary says Central American countries have agreed to “accord substantial market access across their entire services regime, offering new access in sectors such as telecommunications, express delivery, computer and related services, tourism, energy, transport, construction and engineering, financial services, insurance, audio-visual and entertainment, professional, environmental, and other sectors.”

Central American countries also have agreed to loosen restrictions that lock U.S. firms into exclusive or inefficient distributor arrangements, the summary says.

The Bush administration completed negotiations on the agreement with El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua earlier this week. Costa Rica has declined to participate in the treaty because of concerns about provisions that would have required it to drop health and plant safety rules that now keep out some U.S. agricultural products.

The administration will release a draft of CAFTA in January, then notify Congress of its intent to sign the pact, officials say. The administration still must get approval for the agreement from Congress before the agreement can take effect.

The American Council of Life Insurers, Washington, put out a statement welcoming completion of CAFTA negotiations.

“ACLI’s objectives are to achieve market access, national treatment and regulatory transparency in each market by a date certain and within a reasonable time frame,” the ACLI says of the agreement. “The CAFTA package proposed by the administration reaches these goals and includes new regulatory and administrative commitments for the 4 Central American nations that are not currently contained in their [World Trade Organization] commitments.”