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From: TSS ()
Subject: GWs BSE MRR POLICY could expose Panama to the "catastrophic consequences of plagues and diseases."
Date: January 11, 2006 at 8:52 am PST

Jan. 11, 2006, 12:13AM
Panamanian quits in protest
Agriculture chief says U.S. pushing nation to lower safety standards

Associated Press

PANAMA CITY, PANAMA - Panama's agricultural minister resigned Tuesday, accusing the United States of pressuring the Central American country to accept lower agricultural inspection standards.

Laurentino Cortizo's departure comes as the United States and Panama negotiate in Washington on a bilateral free trade accord that would remove tariffs and agricultural subsidies.

Cortizo accused the United States of pressuring Panama to allow U.S. imports despite inadequate U.S. inspections that could expose Panama to the "catastrophic consequences of plagues and diseases."

"I have been fighting with my conscience ... and I decided to resign to sound off some kind of alarm," Cortizo said in a news conference Tuesday. "The agricultural health inspection is the backbone of the agricultural industry and cannot be relaxed in this way."

President Martin Torrijos replaced Cortizo with agricultural negotiator Guillermo Salazar, who was already in Washington Tuesday for the trade talks. A U.S. Trade Representative spokeswoman, Christin Baker, said the talks would take place Tuesday through Thursday. Torrijos said he would never put Panama's agricultural industry at risk.

"The differences of how to approach the application of sanitary regulations in no way affect our friendship," Torrijos said at a brief news conference. "My government would never compromise on this ... "

Cortizo accused the United States of trying to impose its health inspection measures on Panama, although both countries agreed in previous talks to follow World Trade Organization standards.

"Panama should not, under any circumstance, set the precedent of not applying our health inspection laws in force because another country wants to sell its products," Cortizo said in his resignation letter to Torrijos.

"I am enormously concerned that the relaxing of health inspections puts at risk the health and life of Panamanians, the agricultural heritage of our country and the loss of current and potential business ties with other countries," Cortizo wrote.


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