Bush administration stops free trade talks with Ecuador

The Bush administration said it had broken off negotiations on a free trade agreement with Ecuador following the South American government's decision to annul an operating contract with Occidental Petroleum Corp.

"We are very disappointed at the decision of Ecuador, which appears to constitute a seizure of assets of a U.S. company," Neena Moorjani, a spokeswoman for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, said in a statement Tuesday. "At this time no further (free trade agreement) discussions are scheduled."

On Monday, Ecuador canceled Occidental's operating contracts after a dispute that had stretched over a number of years. The government of Ecuador claimed that the oil company had broken the terms of its contract.

Ecuadorean President Alfredo Palacio sent troops to guard oil facilities, but officials said the cancellation of Occidental's operating contracts and the seizure of its assets did not mean Ecuador was nationalizing its oil industry.

Ecuador expressed concern about the U.S. action to break off trade talks.

The country's top government spokesman, Enrique Proano, told The Associated Press that his country "laments deeply the declaration by the United States ... that a sovereign decision by Ecuador should have influenced the continuity of trade relations and especially negotiation" of the free trade pact.

The United States started negotiating free trade deals with Ecuador, Peru and Colombia in May 2004.

The negotiations with Peru concluded in December and an agreement with Colombia was reached in February, although Congress has yet to approve those two measures, reports the AP.

I.L.