White House Puts On a Happy FTAA Face
Administration calls the recent summit ''interesting…fruitful…and fluid''
WASHINGTON, DC - 11/09/05 - In a brave attempt to put a happy face on an otherwise disappointing Fourth Summit of the Americas, the Bush Administration is calling the recently concluded series of political, economic, and trade meetings in Buenos Aires "a very, very interesting summit, with a very fruitful and fluid dialogue."
The conclave "was a very, very interesting summit, with a very fruitful and fluid dialogue," said Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Thomas Shannon.
"The leaders came here with the idea to advance a common agenda in terms of democracy and economic development, and I believe they achieved important advances in these two areas," said Shannon at a press conference at the conclusion of the talks last Saturday in the Argentine city of Mar del Plata.
The State Department official indicated that the declaration that emerged from the summit was a "good" one.
He also said that communiqués released regarding Haiti, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Ecuador and the current round of World Trade Organization (WTO) negotiations were "very important."
Shannon explained that the communiqués highlighted hemispheric leaders' support for countries undergoing democratic transitions while also sending a strong message prior to the upcoming WTO meetings about the importance of concluding the current round of talks.
In addition, Shannon said, the summit was particularly important because the debate between the leaders "was very, very useful to identify points of consensus and areas where there is not yet consensus."
But, he said, consensus does not yet exist is the pace of efforts to create a proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).
President Bush met with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva over the weekend in Brazil, after hopes of uniting the hemisphere from Canada to Chile within a common free trade zone ended without even a blueprint for advancing the proposal.
"He's got to be convinced, just like the people of America must be convinced, that a trade arrangement in our hemisphere is good for jobs, it's good for the quality of life," Bush later said of Silva.
According to media reports, Bush appeared to support Silva's call for separate negotiations on a global trade deal (the so-called Doha Round), including addressing US farm subsidies, reiterating his recent statements that the US will reduce subsidies and tariffs if European trading partners do the same.
"If we lower the subsidies, we would very much like to be able to tell our farmers the same thing the President [Silva] wants to tell his farmers…that there's access to markets," said Bush.
Silva, however, said further discussions were premature and should wait until after the World Trade Organization hosts meetings next month in Hong Kong to lay out a global treaty slashing tariffs and farm subsidies.
"Anything we do now, before the WTO meetings, could confuse the facts and we'd be creating an impediment to the WTO," Silva told reporters at the summit.
Agricultural powerhouses Argentina and Brazil are the most vocal opponents to a regional pact, often saying that subsidies for American farmers unfairly benefit US exports and allow exporters to flood global markets with cheaper goods.
Brazil, a leading exporter of soybeans and cotton, has challenged US subsidies at the WTO and earlier this year led a bloc of 22 nations to denounce agricultural supports among the more developed G-8 nations.
The resistance to the creation of a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) agreement illustrates that " ... we're moving into a time of greater trade risk for multinational corporations," according to trade analyst Bryan Squibb of Aon Trade Credit and Trade Risk in Chicago.
"The Latin American countries' intransigence on the FTAA is typical," said Squibb, adding that the anti-FTAA faction "... could contaminate the entire region, increasing the likelihood of loss and risk throughout the region."
Several of those countries, he said, "believe the American government's subsidies of American farmers give the US farmers an unfair trade advantage…so the Latin American countries are retaliating by resisting the FTAA."
Summit participants were expected to make mention of the FTAA in their final declaration, but it seemed unlikely that the document would include an April date to restart high-level talks wanted by 29 of the 34 Latin American and Caribbean nations attending the event, said sources.
Mexican President Vincente Fox told reporters that FTAA supporters want to adopt an April deadline to resume talks but that dissenters were holding out for a document without a definitive date and says "conditions are not right" for a free trade zone.
Fox has said that the countries that support a union should go ahead with its plans and exclude those who are opposed.
According to Shannon of the State Department, while 29 of the 34 regional democracies are prepared to move forward immediately toward the creation of an FTAA, Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Venezuela are not.
Shannon pointed out that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was the only leader to oppose the free-trade accord on ideological grounds, while the other opposing nations - which comprise the Mercosur trading bloc - suggested that the right conditions do not yet exist to move forward with the FTAA.
However, Shannon emphasized that the Mercosur nations remain open to participating in FTAA talks in the future.
Shannon said that progress in the upcoming WTO talks, particularly in the area of agricultural subsidies, could present an opportunity for further progress on the FTAA.
In the meantime, he said, the Western Hemisphere "emerged from the summit a winner. We had a debate that was necessary to have."
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