Now more than ever international trade agreement negotiations and more specifically negotiations leading to the creation of the Free Trade Area of the Americas require the participation and input of parliamentarians. This article looks at how the Parliamentary Confederation of the Americas is working toward enabling all parliamentarians on the American continents to work in concert on the process of hemispheric integration.
The Parliamentary Confederation of the Americas (COPA) was created in response to the first Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Americas, held in Miami in 1994, during which the project of creating a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) for 2005 and rebuilding inter-American cooperation on a new foundation was first introduced.
The prospect of establishing the FTAA and carrying out the Summit action plans initiated an integration process with economic, political, social, environmental and cultural ramifications, and one that directly concerns parliamentarians in their role as legislators and representatives of the people.
COPA was officially founded in September 1997 when 400 parliamentarians from 28 countries of the Americas convened in Quebec. Among their number were several representatives from the two houses of the Parliament of Canada, as well as from the provinces and two of the territories. Parliamentarians agreed on the need to create a representative, independent and pluralistic forum in which they could express their points of view and discuss available means of action to face the new hemispheric realities. COPA has since held four other General Assemblies and set up permanent thematic working committees and the Network of Women Parliamentarians of the Americas.
In order to give a voice to all the parliamentarians of the Americas, COPA, like the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the Assemblee Parlementaire de la Francophonie, brings together parliaments from unitary, federal and federated States. COPA also allows the participation of regional parliaments such as the Andean Parliament, and interparliamentary organizations of the Americas such as the National Conference of State Legislatures of the United States.
The Significance of the FTAA for Parliamentarians
Parliamentarians must definitely become more involved in the FTAA negotiation process. Parliamentarians' association with the economic integration process gives it increased transparency and legitimacy, thus mitigating the "democratic deficit" often experienced in connection with international trade negotiations. Furthermore, many parliamentarians from all parts of the Americas are qualified for such responsibilities through their previous training and professional duties as well as years of work on parliamentary committees and within international interparliamentary organizations.
Since free-trade agreements have an impact in the areas of jurisdiction belonging to federated States, the reasons brought forward for promoting participation in trade negotiations do not apply only to parliamentarians on the national or federal level. COPA is thus a most suitable forum allowing parliamentarians from the federated States to present their perspectives on international trade negotiations.
The potential impact of the FTAA on the populations of the Americas and on the ability of parliamentarians to legislate in their respective areas of jurisdiction has been a concern of the members of COPA since it was founded. Over the years, they have been taking on a more constructive role in the negotiations involved in creating this trade agreement.
Consequently, during a meeting of COPA's Executive Committee in Quebec coinciding with the Third Summit of the Americas in April 2001, the parliamentarians committed themselves to playing a more active role in the Summit process, specifically in the FTAA negotiations, and to taking the necessary, measures to inform and consult their populations about the stakes involved. …