- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 22, 2003

Negotiations held in Miami last week to establish a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) went according to script and rehearsal. The United States and Brazil agreed beforehand to forgo substantive trade negotiations, in the interest of concluding the summit with the proper press-release protocol. Not all media played along.

The “Free-trade light” headline on our Nov. 14 curtain-raiser prompted the U.S. Trade Representative to respond: “What I think many of us have tried to focus on is … a comprehensive agreement. So I do know how people describe that as ‘light,’ if you are trying to cover a broad range of categories.” The deadline for creating an FTAA is January 2005.

The negotiating parties evaded some serious discussions in Miami, such as transparency in government and agricultural subsidies. Even with these issues off the table, the negotiators decided in Miami that countries will be able to opt out of requirements in certain areas, such as intellectual property and agriculture.

Some business leaders have criticized the limited scope of the negotiating consensus reached in Miami. Frank Vargo, international vice president for the National Association of Manufacturers, has been particularly vocal. “This is not the way we want to go,” he said.

Still, the deal in Miami laid the foundation for free-trade talks to move forward. for example, just as it was becoming clear that an agreement would be struck between the United States and other countries in the Americas, Europe said it would drop its insistence that certain issues be part of a global trade agreement. Interestingly, the United States had indicated shortly before that it was willing to be flexible on the same areas — foreign investment, transparency in bidding for government contracts, trade facilitation and competition. This change in Europe’s position could clear the logjam in global trade talks.

The United States also made progress in negotiating regional trade accords. U.S. officials are in the final stages of completing a free-trade deal with five Central American countries — Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Costa Rica. And U.S. officials will begin negotiating free-trade talks with the Andean Community next year.

While what happened in Miami was nothing compared to the breakdown of global trade talks in Cancun, U.S. officials are faulted for overselling the Miami talks.

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