Free Trade Area of the Americas
In the middle of a tug-of-war between the United States and Brazil, the co-chairs of the negotiations, the 8th ministerial meeting of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) will take place Nov. 20-21 in the U.S. city of Miami.
A broad range of civil society groups, including environmentalists, is opposed to the hemisphere-wide agreement.
The 34 countries of North and South America and the Caribbean, with the exception of Cuba, will be represented at the meeting, where ministers will try to clear the way for the free flow of goods and services in the region beginning in 2005.
The United States is reportedly seeking a "broad" agreement that establishes regional rules for intellectual property rights, investment and government procurement, as well as a reduction of tariffs throughout the hemisphere.
Meanwhile, Brazil, the largest Latin American market, is mostly looking for a pact that reduces the barriers standing in the way of market access.
Brazil charges that the U.S. farm subsidies cost the South American giant millions of dollars in losses. But the U.S. government, like Japan and the European Union, does not want to deal with the issue outside of the World Trade Organization.
The gradual elimination of trade and investment barriers in the region is the aim of the FTAA, an initiative that emerged from the 1994 Summit of the Americas. The traditional policy of U.S. aid through financial credits to the developing South has been replaced by the idea of a Canada-to-Argentina free trade zone.
The areas of negotiation within the FTAA include: market access, investment, services, public procurement, dispute settlement, agriculture, intellectual property rights, subsidies, anti-dumping rules, and competition policies.
The "Tripartite Committee", comprising the Inter-American Development Bank, the Organization of American States and the U.N. Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, provides analytical, technical and financial support for the FTAA process.
There are many who view the trade agreement with skepticism. A study by Canada's International Development Research Center indicates that the FTAA is considered a means for strengthening the U.S. negotiating position against the European Union and the countries of Southeast Asia.
Friends of the Earth says that the implementation of the FTAA would have negative consequences for the environment. Accords on services, which would range from the oil industry to tourism, would make it difficult for governments to limit investment and to regulate environmental protection.
Groups like the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, based in the U.S. state of Florida, say they fear a repeat of the experience of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), the 1994 treaty between Canada, Mexico and the United States. After the agreement entered into force, they say, the Mexican market was flooded with U.S. corn, driving down prices and forcing small farmers out of business.
But defenders of the treaty point to the fact that Mexico's trade with its big neighbor to the north currently runs at a surplus.