Negotiating An FTAA: Expect Neither Quick Nor Easy

By John S. McClenahen Although it has been in the planning stages since 1994, actually negotiating a Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA) promises to be neither quick nor easy. For example, the Bush Administration, which has made implementation of an FTAA by yearend 2005 a major presidential goal, may not have vital "trade-promotion authority" by the end of this year. Formerly known as fast-track authority, it provides for the U.S. Congress to approve or disapprove, but not to amend, trade agreements. The White House has not had such presidential negotiating authority since 1995, and without it Brazil and most of the 32 other potential partners to an FTAA are unlikely to even begin serious bargaining with the U.S. Meanwhile José Alfredo Garça Lima, the FTAA ambassador of Brazil, South America's largest economy, worries that new forms of trade protectionism will emerge as Latin American countries negotiate terms of an FTAA. Specifically, he's asking the U.S. to be more flexible on tariffs and anti-dumping measures. Within the U.S. Congress domestic protectionist pressures already are building -- as are pressures to make labor and environmental standards part of an FTAA. Significantly, however, at least one major manufacturing group is signaling new willingness to work with labor and environmental groups on the issue. "We believe that if the objective genuinely is to improve the environment and raise labor standards, then there are positive steps that can be taken," says Frank Vargo, vice president for international economic affairs at the National Assn. of Manufacturers, Washington. "We remain opposed to trade sanctions [to enforce standards], but we are ready to discuss alternatives and look for creative solutions."

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