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C bean nations call for resumption of FTAA talks 1
Web Posted - Wed Sep 28 2005
THE Free Trade Area of the America (FTAA) negotiations, which have been stalled, faces several competing agendas both in the hemisphere and globally. As such, these have helped to diminish its political and economic priority for many countries in the hemisphere.

The FTAA is an ambitious free trade arrangement which 34 hemispheric nations  excluding Cuba  are trying to fashion. However, it has lost its way with the January 2005 deadline for the official start to its functioning having long passed.

Recently Caribbean countries have called for a restart to the negotiations.

Attempts by the United States and Brazilian Trade Negotiating Committee (TNC) co-chairs to revive the talks have been unsuccessful. At the outset of 2005, both co-chairs signalled that they were actively exploring ways to re-launch the embattled talks. However, the co-chairs have not met in months, initially having cited scheduling problems.

Save for repeated statements from certain countries, including CARICOM countries, reaffirming a commitment to the FTAA, there has been a hiatus in the process, with no clear guidance on the way forward.

In as much as the August 25 Puebla meeting presented an important opportunity for interchange, it took place at a time when circumstances are far from propitious for a re-launch of negotiations.

At the hemispheric level, the US has pushed ahead with separate, faster bilateral trade agreements with several countries involved in the FTAA process. This has prompted a re-evaluation of strategic trade options by various countries in Latin/Central America, as it regards utilising the FTAA as a springboard for securing access to the US market.

MERCOSUR, in particular Brazil, is seeking to consolidate its own sub-regional integration process, and has embarked on an aggressive campaign to extend and consolidate trade relations and other strategic alliances within and outside of Latin America.

Waning support for the FTAA has also been evident over the last several months, notwithstanding recent policy pronouncements by the principal players reaffirming continued commitment to the goals of the FTAA. Certain countries have openly suggested that WTO Doha Round negotiations remain their fundamental and main priority, and that the Americas-wide trade pact is off the agenda. Recent changes announced at the US Trade Representatives office, in particular the reassignment of deputy USTR Ambassador Peter Allgeier, the current US TNC co-chair in FTAA talks to the WTO, will most likely also impact on the FTAA process.

The successful re-launch of FTAA negotiations requires a pragmatic re-dimensioning of the scope of the trade agreement under negotiation. Consensus on a simpler, more efficacious structure of negotiations is needed if the completion of the FTAA is not to be jeopardised. This can be achieved by defining the scope of the FTAA as the core issues, which had previously commanded consensus. The subjects, issues and extent of liberalisation not in the consensus could be added to the accord in a subsequent round of negotiations. A unified structure would improve chances for a re-launch of the process of hemispheric trade negotiations; and by removing the most contentious elements from the negotiations thereby enhancing the feasibility of completing them. ¢