Why Chile Matters in Quest for Global Free Trade

By Hakim, Peter | The Christian Science Monitor, January 25, 2001 | Go to article overview
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Why Chile Matters in Quest for Global Free Trade

Hakim, Peter, The Christian Science Monitor

Last November, when the Clinton administration announced free- trade negotiations with Chile, it was carrying out a six-year-old promise.

Too bad it took so long. Aside from last year's agreement with China, the talks with Chile may be the most important US trade negotiations since 1993, when the North American Free Trade Agreement and World Trade Organization accords were approved.

True, Chile's $6 billion per year in two-way trade with the US amounts only to about one-third of 1 percent of all US trade. But the US-Chile talks are significant, because of their potentially powerful influence on the ongoing hemisphere-wide trade talks - and perhaps on future global negotiations.

The Chile negotiations give the US the opportunity to reaffirm its commitment to the Free Trade Area of the Americas - a zone intended to include every country of the hemisphere.

Latin American governments have become increasingly skeptical about whether the US can be counted on to fulfill its free-trade pledges. The US's credibility on trade has been badly damaged by the Clinton administration's failure to gain so-called fast-track negotiating authority, which would have allowed the president to negotiate accords that Congress cannot amend.

Now, in less than three months, President Bush will join 33 other heads of state in Quebec for the next Western Hemispheric summit. President Bush might not be able to do much more than Clinton did at the 1998 summit - to vow to go after "fast track" quickly. But the new president will be more convincing if he can point to substantial progress on free trade with Chile.

If the Bush team promptly assigns high priority to Chile, these talks can advance rapidly, with perhaps a fully agreed text concluded by the Quebec summit. After all, congressional approval is not needed to accomplish this. The negotiators on both sides are experienced. And there are good templates from which to work, i.e., the accords that Chile has already signed with Canada and Mexico.

By helping confirm the US commitment to hemispheric free trade, a deal with Chile would generate renewed enthusiasm for the free- trade zone across Latin America.

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