North American Trade Zone Expanding South, Officials Say 34 Nations Are Planning to Eliminate Barriers - Maybe by 2005

Article excerpt

President Bill Clinton and the leaders of 33 other nations in the Western Hemisphere will agree to set up a free trade zone joining the United States, Canada and all of Latin America when they meet this weekend in Miami, officials say.

The meeting is the first hemispherewide conference in a generation.

The most difficult issue to resolve in setting up the new zone was a target date, administration officials said. Officials indicated that the 34 leaders wanted to achieve a 10-year negotiating plan under which an accord would be in place by 2005. The accord would eliminate all tariffs and other barriers to trade within the hemisphere.

The agreement will also pledge tougher adherence to standards protecting worker rights and the environment - two of the sensitive issues that nearly derailed the North American Free Trade Agreement last year - after U.S. negotiators succeeded in overcoming objections from other participants.

The conference is known as the Summit of the Americas. Although the conference will delve into such touchy issues as corruption, drugs, terrorism and human rights, its heart will be the dramatic expansion of economic activity among the nations of North, Central and South America, as Clinton tries to push international trade, at the center of his foreign and economic policy, into the forefront of hemispheric relations.

The aim of building a free trade zone that would encompass every nation in the hemisphere - except for Fidel Castro's Cuba - and the pressure to not let that goal subvert adherence to strict standards protecting workers and the environment are spelled out in a final revised draft of a meeting-ending declaration. …