US, Panama on "eve" of implementing trade pact

A long-delayed free trade agreement between the United States and Panama will go into force once the Central American country takes a few remaining steps, a top U.S. trade official said on Thursday.

"The United States and Panama are on the eve of bringing an historic trade agreement into force," Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Miriam Sapiro said in a speech at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

The U.S Congress approved the free trade pact nearly a year ago, several years after it was originally negotiated by the Republican administration of former U.S. President George W. Bush.

Panamanian officials set a goal of approving the necessary legislation to implement the agreement by October.

"We were therefore pleased when Panama's National Assembly passed the final required legislative package last Thursday and we understand that package is now awaiting President (Ricardo) Martinelli's signature," Sapiro said.

"I am optimistic that Panama will do everything it can to take the final actions necessary so both countries' companies, workers, farmers, ranchers and service providers can begin taking advantage of the agreement," she said.