Trade Ministers Wrap Up FTAA Summit

By Agence France-Presse Trade ministers from the hemisphere working on the Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement wrapped up work late Nov. 20, one day ahead of schedule, with a deal that scales back the original plan for a free-trade bloc of 34 nations. The move avoids what some people thought was a likely collapse of the talks, but downscales the ambitious goals set when the plan was envisioned back in 1994. Protesters opposed to the FTAA clashed with riot police earlier in the day, as tens of thousands of union workers and sympathizers marched against a pact. At least 76 protesters were arrested, police said. "We're moving the FTAA into a new phase, from general concepts to positive realities and opportunities, to a practical stage," said U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick, as he closed the event at a press conference along with representatives of all the other countries. Talks to complete the FTAA, which would create the world's largest free trade area, with a market of some 800 million people, "could be successfully concluded by the end of next year," said Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim. Upcoming talks should focus on lower tariff barriers, the summit declaration said, while the thorny issue of agricultural subsidies and dumping will now be resolved by the World Trade Organization, as the United States wanted. Negotiators also sidestepped addressing controversial issues such as investment, intellectual property and government purchases. The result is an "FTAA a la carte," in which Washington reaches out to individual countries ready for free trade to underscore some progress, and shows flexibility with those unwilling or unable to join the group by the 2005 deadline. Representatives from Mexico, Chile, and Canada -- three countries that favored a broader agreement entering the meeting -- said they were satisfied with the outcome. Work towards reaching the final agreement "is evolving," said Chilean Foreign Minister Soledad Alvear, while Canadian Foreign Minister Pierre Pettigrew praised "solid progress" at the meeting. Washington will meanwhile continue to seek separate trade agreements with individual countries and regional groups. Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2003

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