FTAA Now a Reality
Pact will span 34 countries from the Arctic Ocean to Cape Horn
MIAMI - 11/21/03 - Trade ministers from 34 countries across the Americas - unable to agree on thorny issues like agricultural subsidies but pressured to avoid another failure in international talks - have approved a watered-down framework for the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA).
The agreement, reports the Associated Press, is due to be formalized by January, 2005, will impact a broad spectrum of activities from what food consumers buy in supermarkets to employment trends and immigration flows.
The announcement of the pact came as police and protesters clashed just a few blocks from the downtown Miami hotel where the meeting was being held. Opponents say the agreement will hurt workers' rights and the environment.
According to the AP, the Ministers hailed their final declaration as a victory, with both former rivals the United States and Brazil saying it showed there had been progress in bringing countries together since World Trade Organization's talks collapsed two months ago in Mexico.
US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said ministers had "learned some lessons" since Mexico, and had moved the "FTAA into a new phase, from general concepts and people talking past each other to positive realities."
During the WTO talks in Mexico, Brazil led a group of more than 20 nations who insisted that the US and Europe eliminate agricultural subsidies. Since the talks collapsed, the WTO's 146 members have made little progress in breaking the deadlock.
Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said Thursday's declaration was a good sign that there may be future movement within the WTO, and he agreed that countries were no longer "dancing to the beat of their own drummer, trying to explain his or her position."
During FTAA negotiations, the Bush Administration has tried to keep negotiations on cutting US subsidies to American farmers at the global level through the WTO. Brazil has done the same with discussions on investment and intellectual-property rights.
The FTAA declaration, hammered out by deputy ministers on Wednesday, calls for a core agreement that all countries must follow, but allows each nation to decide its commitment to the more controversial topics.
Mexico Economy Secretary Fernando Canales expressed disappointment that the draft didn't go further in defining how markets would be opened and when.
The declaration will now be turned over to negotiators for more work, which all acknowledged would be difficult.
In a speech to business leaders, US Commerce Secretary Donald Evans said that after nearly a decade of talks on an FTAA, it was time to have an agreement.
"Nine years is too long, and it's time for action," he said. "We can't sit around here waiting for people to study it, and study it, and study it."
However, he promised to protect US employees from unfair practices. "We have to be able to look our workers in the eyes and tell them they are on a level playing field," Evans said.
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