Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns is traveling to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to highlight early successes of the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR).

"This is an opportunity to showcase the benefits that CAFTA-DR is delivering to both the United States and our partner countries," said Johanns. "This regional market is important for U.S. agricultural producers. Strengthening the economies in these countries will increase demand for U.S. agricultural exports and improve lives. The United States remains committed to working with our CAFTA-DR partners in addressing any implementation and transitional issues that arise."

In each country, Secretary Johanns will meet with government and business leaders to discuss the agreement's implementation and administration. In addition to its trade provisions, CAFTA-DR is the first U.S. trade agreement that includes technical assistance and trade capacity building support.

Since negotiations began in 2003, the United States has provided more than $650 million in trade-related assistance programs to the CAFTA-DR countries. These programs provide training in the technical expertise needed to enhance international trade through improved customs procedures, protection of intellectual property rights and support to the animal and plant health and food safety systems.

In El Salvador, Johanns will meet with President Elias Antonio Saca and Agriculture Minister Mario Ernesto Salaverría to discuss CAFTA-DR implementation. He will also visit the Petacones Dairy Plant, which showcases U.S. trade capacity building efforts. Plant employees and suppliers, working with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and USDA, received training that enabled the plant to meet international health and safety standards and begin exporting to the region and the United States.

In Guatemala, Secretary Johanns will meet with President Oscar Berger and Agriculture Minister Bernardo Lopez. He will visit projects funded by USDA's Food for Progress program and McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program. He will visit the MOSCAMED Program facility for the mass production of sterile Mediterranean fruit flies. The MOSCAMED Program is a cooperative regional endeavor, jointly managed by Guatemala, Mexico and the United States, with the main goal of preventing the spread of the pest into Medfly-free agricultural production areas in the three countries.

He will also visit Agropecuaria Popoyan, a greenhouse project that produces peppers and tomatoes and began exporting to the United States following the training USDA provided to inspectors on measures to mitigate pest risks in exports.

In Honduras, Secretary Johanns is scheduled to meet with Agriculture Minister Hector Hernandez. He will also meet with Agriculture Minister Salvador Jimenez of the Dominican Republic; and Agriculture Minister Ariel Bucardo of Nicaragua. Secretary Johanns will also address ministers from Central America at a meeting of CORECA, the Regional Council of Agricultural Cooperation.

U.S. agricultural trade flows with the CAFTA-DR countries are showing gains across the board. U.S. agricultural exports to the CAFTA-DR region reached $2.2 billion in 2006, an increase of nearly 19 percent from 2005. Based on the latest statistics, 2007 is projected to be another record year, with exports through June up 22 percent over the same time last year.

In 2006, U.S. agricultural imports from the CAFTA-DR countries totaled $3.1 billion, up 13 percent from a year earlier. Record-setting imports were registered for bananas and other fresh fruits, nursery products, processed fruits and vegetables, cheese and other dairy products, and many more products.

CAFTA-DR countries that have implemented the agreement are El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua (all in 2006) and the Dominican Republic (in 2007). Costa Rica has scheduled a referendum on ratification of the accord in October 2007.