FTAA Talks on Track After Meeting in Miami

With the exception of Cuba, representatives from all the countries in the Americas participated in the Miami talks. The agreement the 34 nations hammered out calls on all participants to negotiate minimum levels of commitments in each of nine negotiating areas, while allowing countries that want to seek higher commitments to pursue those separately through individual pacts.

The Free Trade Area of the Americas, due to be agreed by 2005, would create a free-trade area of 34 countries and 800 million people.

During the FTAA meeting, the Bush administration insisted on saving negotiations on possible changes to U.S. farm subsidies for talks at the World Trade Organization. Brazil has made the same demands for discussions on other areas including the protection of copyrights and patents, and rules governing foreign direct investment.

Ministers hailed Thursday’s final declaration as a victory. The United States and Brazil, which have been locked in a trade feud, said it showed there had been progress since WTO talks collapsed two months ago in Cancun, Mexico.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said negotiators had “learned some lessons” since Cancun, and had moved the “FTAA into a new phase, from general concepts and people talking past each other to positive realities.”

Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim told the BBC, “We still have a lot of substantial issues to discuss and they are not easy. … But what we decided was to pursue a course that will make it possible, creates the conditions to come to an agreement. It doesn’t guarantee an agreement, but it creates the condition for an agreement.”

Frank Vargo of the National Association of Manufacturers expressed some concerns about the two-tiered structure agreed to at the Miami talks, but was relieved the talks did not break down.

“What we have is a more complicated process — something like developing a TV cable system that has a basic service and premium channels,” Vargo said. “The job will be to see that as many channels as possible go into the basic service and that as many countries as possible sign up for the premium channels.”

David Waskow, trade policy analyst for the Friends of the Earth and a critic of the FTAA, told Reuters the United States had been forced to scale back its ambitions to avoid a high-profile collapse of the talks in Miami.

“It’s pretty clearly a rebuff to the U.S. position going in. I think it means the agreement ultimately will be a hollow shell,” Waskow said.

A few blocks from where the ministers were meeting on Thursday, police clashed with anti-globalization activists and other protesters.

Most of the thousands of demonstrators were peaceful, but a few dozen staged violent protests and hurled rocks and smoke grenades at police. Police in riot gear responded with tear gas and rubber bullets. About 140 demonstrators were arrested, and 20 people were taken to hospitals for treatment, including three police officers.

Many of the protesters believe the free trade zone would harm the environment and reduce workers’ rights by allowing companies to exploit cheap labor.