More banks outside the mainland United States are responding to American Express Co.'s partnership pitch.

The latest two to sign on are Credomatic, a major credit card company in Central America, and Banco Popular de Puerto Rico.

The global bank card organizations include Puerto Rico, though part of the United States, in their Caribbean regions.

The signings are emblematic of American Express' efforts to enter into marketing relationships with non-U.S. banks. Its domestic ambitions have met resistance from MasterCard and Visa, and those associations' U.S. members have not broken ranks.

American Express has signed 21 such deals, 14 of them since May 1996 when the chairman of the company, Harvey Golub, asked Visa and MasterCard member banks to consider entering alliances with American Express.

The company has made all its progress abroad, where the bank card associations do not have rules prohibiting their members from working with American Express.

Credomatic, based in Costa Rica, began issuing American Express cards there this week, as well as in Nicaragua, Guatemala, and Honduras. The company expects to issue the cards in El Salvador, as well.

The partnership agreement, which was signed in February, could increase American Express' merchant base in the region by as many as 36,000, as Credomatic asks its Visa and MasterCard merchants also to accept American Express cards.

The Credomatic deal also allows American Express to offer a local- currency card in Central America. Previously, American Express cards were available only in dollars, requiring cardholders to have U.S. bank accounts.

Credomatic, which is responsible for providing all operational support, is issuing both American Express basic charge cards and revolving-credit cards.

Banco Popular plans to sell American Express cards by next year. Unlike Credomatic, Banco Popular will not act as a merchant-acquiring bank for American Express.

Banco Popular's card will bear the American Express logo on the bottom, similar to a Visa or MasterCard mark. Credomatic's card, on the other hand, will look like a traditional American Express card.

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