Ambassadors from 19 Caribbean countries made a formal request to U.S. lawmakers and administration officials for an equal-access provision in legislation implementing the North American Free Trade Agreement.

The request was made in a letter from the Washington envoys, following reports that the implementing legislation does not include a proposal to grant Caribbean Basin countries parity with Mexico for the first three years of Nafta.U.S. lawmakers are scheduled to vote on the highly contentious legislation Wednesday. If it passes, the Caribbean representatives say, it would be difficult afterward to generate interest in parity legislation among lawmakers.

The so-called parity provision would give Caribbean and Central American states duty-free access to the United States and Canada for a range of goods denied preferential treatment under current arrangements.

During the three years covered by the provision, these countries would negotiate Nafta membership with the pact's signatories - the United States, Canada and Mexico.

"We have not yet been told the administration's decision on our request," said Richard Bernal, Jamaica's ambassador to the United States, who said he was one of the 19 signatories of the letter.

He warned that any disruption of the region's economic development through a loss of markets if and when Nafta is implemented could render the Caribbean an avenue for the trafficking of narcotics and a source of illegal emigration to the United States and Canada.

"If the proposals for parity are not included in the implementing legislation and Nafta is approved, there could also be labor unrest in the region and a threat of political chaos," Mr Bernal said.

Caribbean Basin exports to the United States last year were $10.1 billion, and trade between the United States and the region created 230,000 jobs in the United States, he said.