Free Trade in the Americas: A Perspective from the Organization of American States

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

Momentum is building towards the creation of a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). That much appears to be undeniable. What is more uncertain, and therefore stimulates much speculative debate, is the final structure that the FTAA will take and the process that will be required to complete its construction. Although unanswerable at this stage, these questions and their examination contribute towards the emerging vision of an FTAA.

No matter what its final form, establishing an FTAA will require a combined effort of considerable political will and a tremendous amount of technical groundwork. Part II of this article reviews the mandate that has been given to the Organization of American States (OAS) to participate in this process. It outlines the role played by the various organs of this regional organization in fulfilling that mandate and examines the steps that have been taken by these OAS organs to date. Part III of this article considers three important questions that have been precipitated by the movement towards the FTAA.(1) These questions are: What are the prospects for the expansion of a North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)? Is the NAFTA an appropriate model for a hemispheric agreement? Do regional trading blocs weaken the multilateral trading system and the World Trade Organization (WTO)? Keys to questions such as these may be revealed through examination of the process that is already underway.

II. Participation by the OAS in the FTAA Process

A. Mandate Given to the OAS

At the Summit of the Americas which was held in Miami, Florida, December 9-11, 1994, leaders of the western hemisphere "resolve[d] to conclude the negotiation of the [FTAA] no later than 2005, and agree that concrete progress toward the attainment of this objective will be made by the end of this century."(2) The OAS, with the support of other organizations, was called upon to implement the steps outlined towards achieving that goal.(3) The roles of the various organs within the OAS in implementing these steps are outlined below.

B. Outline of Participating OAS Organs

1. Political Organs of the OAS

a. Special Committee on Trade

In 1993, recognizing "the prevailing economic and trade conditions in the Hemisphere, as evidenced, inter alia, in the spirit of the U.S. Enterprise for the Americas Initiative," OAS member states established the Special Committee on Trade (SCT).(4) It is composed of high level trade officials from all OAS member states(5) and its objective is "promoting trade liberalization and expansion, among the countries of the Hemisphere."(6) An Advisory Group, comprised of nine senior trade policy officials from the OAS member states, was formed to assist the Committee in fulfilling its mandate.(7)

The SCT is directed to

act in close cooperation and coordination with the

regional and subregional organizations (ALADI [Latin

American Integration Association], IDB

[Inter-American Development Bank], ECLAC [United Nations

Economic Commission for Latin America and the

Caribbean], SELA [Latin American Economic System]),

and with integration mechanisms (Andean Pact,

CARICOM [Caribbean Community], MERCOSUR

[Common Market of the South], SICA [Central

American Integration System]).(8)

The Plan of Action adopted at the Miami Summit directs the SCT "to assist in the systematization of data in the region and to continue its work on studying economic integration arrangements in the Hemisphere, including brief comparative descriptions of the obligations in each of the Hemisphere's existing trade agreements."(9) This is to be done with the support of the IDB, ECLAC, and other specialized regional and subregional organizations.(10) The Plan includes a time frame for the initiation of work programs and submission of preliminary and final reports by the SCT to the Ministers responsible for trade. …