The U.S. and Panama completed free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations. USDA says the agreement provides that more than half of all current U.S. farm exports to Panama will become duty-free immediately, including high-quality beef, mechanically de-boned chicken, turkey, pork variety meats, whey, soybeans, crude vegetable oils, cotton, wheat, barley, most fresh fruits, almonds, walnuts and many processed foods such as soups, chocolate confectionary, distilled spirits, wines and pet food.

U.S. ag will also benefit from expanded market access through tariff-rate quotas on pork, chicken leg quarters, dairy products, corn, rice, refined corn oil, dried beans, frozen French fries and tomato products. Tariffs on most remaining U.S. farm products will be phased out within 15 years.

Also, Panama is revising its sanitary and phytosanitary regs recognizing the equivalence of the U.S. food safety inspection system for meat, poultry and process food products. USDA Secretary Mike Johanns says, "Expanding access to the Panamanian market and increasing our two-way trade will strengthen our economic ties and promote increased stability in the Western Hemisphere."
-- P. Scott Shearer, Washington, D.C., correspondent