- The Washington Times - Friday, November 14, 2003

The United States, Brazil and representatives of 32 other nations will arrive in Miami next week with widely divergent visions for a new free-trade zone that would span an area from Alaska to Argentina.

“There are certainly differences and hard questions to resolve. It’s my hope that we can take a positive step in Miami, but recognizing that there will be many steps that need to come,” Robert B. Zoellick, U.S. trade representative and head of the American delegation, told reporters yesterday.

The stakes are high. Government, business and anti-globalization forces from throughout the hemisphere will converge in Miami as negotiations for a Free Trade Area of the Americas enter a critical phase.

If completed, the pact would cover about 800 million people and $13 trillion in production of goods and services. It also stands to boost trade and economic prospects in the hemisphere while bridging a north-south divide.

But the two biggest participants — the United States and Brazil — have been at odds over the basic scope of the agreement. Other nations have internal political problems, and protesters promise to disrupt the meetings.

U.S. trade officials are especially eager for a successful meeting after World Trade Organization talks two months ago in Cancun, Mexico, collapsed when rich and poor nations could not agree on how to move forward.

Mr. Zoellick and Brazil Foreign Minister Celso Amorim met in a hastily called meeting Nov. 7, and leaders from 14 other nations joined them the following day in an attempt to work out differences that threaten to derail the Miami summit.

The parties said they walked away optimistic. Mr. Zoellick said there is a “good possibility” the Miami meeting will end with a comprehensive document, and Mr. Amorim in Brasilia told reporters that the ultimate January 2005 deadline is feasible.

But they still have to agree on the agreement’s scope. Mr. Zoellick yesterday said he wants an agreement that is comprehensive — covering sensitive topics on investment and services — sets up rights and obligations, and sets benefits commensurate with obligations.

“That is where the rubber meets the road. Those will be the issues, but … it is a negotiation,” he said.

Brazil has rejected some of the most fundamental obligations, such as new rules that govern foreign investment, intellectual property and government contracts.

“There’s too much at stake for negotiations to break up, but it’s hard to see the outline of a compromise,” said Eric Farnsworth, vice president of Washington operations at the Council of the Americas, a pro-FTAA group.

And while Brazil appears to have dropped demands that the United States eliminate agricultural subsidies, U.S.-Latin American differences over farm goods may prove especially difficult. While the United States drums a free-trade agenda, subsidies and tariffs support and protect important goods produced in states with congressional allies.

U.S. citrus and sugar are major concerns. For example, Florida and Brazil produce roughly 90 percent of the world’s orange juice, according to Florida Citrus Mutual, an industry group. Brazil exports 99 percent of its production, while 90 percent of Florida’s production is consumed domestically.

“If the Florida citrus industry is to remain a viable $9.1 billion economic engine to Florida and continue to employ nearly 90,000 people, the current citrus tariff must not be altered in future trade agreements,” Florida Citrus Mutual said in a series of talking points for the industry.

Once past the bilateral trouble, the diverse lot of 34 nations — from the wealthy United States to poor Haiti, to politically troubled Venezuela and Bolivia — must agree on a framework for trade.

“I think the countries have to come out of Miami with a framework to arrive at an agreement before 2005,” said Robert Devlin, a deputy manager at the Inter-American Development Bank and the bank’s leading expert on FTAA.

All 34 have to reach a consensus.

“An FTAA without all the countries that signed on would not be an FTAA,” Mr. Devlin said. The nations agreed in 1994 to form a free-trade area by 2005.

Proponents see the agreement as a way to increase trade and economic opportunity in the region.

It also is supposed to help solidify democracy and build democratic institutions in the region, trade officials said.

But the anti-globalization element — labor, environmentalists, some nonprofit groups and anarchists — cite a variety of reasons for opposing the pact.

Oxfam, a moderate anti-poverty group, in a report released this week said the pact would make the rich richer and the poor poorer.

“The U.S. is using strong-arm tactics that will not produce an agreement that promotes development,” said Phil Bloomer, Oxfam international trade campaign manager.

The AFL-CIO labor federation and the Teamsters union said thousands of workers will descend on Miami to oppose erosion of labor standards and potential loss of U.S. jobs.

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