Free Trade in the Americas ... and a Great Deal More: ... What Would Hemispheric Partnership Mean for Canadians?

Article excerpt

It is called FTAA - Free Trade Area of the Americas - but it is much more than that. It is a programme of collective and individual actions by 34 countries of the western hemisphere that seeks improvements in virtually every aspect of economic and social life. Negotiation of liberalized trading arrangements is at the core, but that billing falls well short of capturing the scope of what is afoot.

It all began in Miami in December 1994 when the heads of state and government of all western hemisphere countries, except Cuba, met for the first Summit of the Americas and agreed to a very broad programme of action:

* to preserve and strengthen the community of democracies of the Americas;

* to promote prosperity through economic integration and free trade;

* to eradicate poverty and discrimination in our hemisphere; and

* to guarantee sustainable development and conserve our natural environment for future generations.

Since Miami, the ministers responsible for trade and their officials have met a number of times to flesh out the approach to trade negotiations, and there have been a variety of meetings on other parts of the programme. On 18-19 April 1998 at the second Summit of the Americas in Santiago, Chile, the leaders reviewed progress and committed themselves to an elaborate Program of Action. They confirmed the launching of trade negotiations and agreed to Canadian leadership of the FTAA process until the next summit, which will be in Canada in November 1999.

The intention is to complete the trade negotiations by 2005, with implementation to be phased in after that.

That timetable may not look overly ambitious. There has already been a good deal of preparatory work since the first summit, and seven years remain before the target of 2005 in which to conclude the negotiations. But technical problems as well as political differences among and within the countries of the hemisphere will undoubtedly litter the road. Seven years may prove none too long to bring to fruition the very broad agenda sketched in Miami and enlarged in Santiago.

FTAA will be the Mother of All Regional Negotiations, as complex in some ways as the long process of building the European Community, even without the degree of political integration that has driven the European experience. The countries of the western hemisphere are more disparate in size and economic power; more different in their stages of economic, political, and social development; more torn between their interests in sub-regional as opposed to hemispheric integration than has been the case in Europe. The FTAA is a dream of economic benefits looking for a political base, while European history since the Second World War has been and remains the story of a search for economic arrangements to buttress a political vision.

In the years since Miami, the effort to move the process forward has concentrated more on the trade and investment component than on the other elements. There have been meetings on other parts of the programme, but much less by way of specific planning for action. Nonetheless, when the leaders concluded the second summit in April 1998 their Declaration and Plan of Action went even further than at Miami in spelling out an agenda that goes well beyond the trade/investment negotiations. This remains at the core of the exercise - a Free Trade Area of the Americas - but it is now embedded in a remarkably broad and detailed panoply of commitments by the governments.

The Santiago Plan of Action has four sections: Education, Key to Progress; Preserving and Strengthening Democracy, Justice and Human Rights; Economic Integration and Free Trade; Eradication of Poverty and Discrimination. It runs to no less that 25 pages of detailed commitments under these four headings. While the negotiation of the free trade area itself is of necessity a common endeavour, what happens in the other areas is the responsibility of each country. …