NOW that the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has
come into effect, the United States has an unprecedented
opportunity to create solid economic and political relations with
the rest of its neighbors in the Western Hemisphere. From the
Florida Keys and the Rio Grande to Tierra del Fuego, more nations
have democratically elected governments and are implementing
free-market reforms than at any time in memory. Thanks to President
Bush's Enterprise for the Americas Initiative and the promise of
NAFTA, leaders throughout Latin America are seeking closer economic
relations with the US. The president of Chile, the nation most
likely to be admitted to NAFTA, will visit Washington soon to press
his country's case. Argentina and other countries await only a
clearer indication of what they must do to qualify.
Within Latin America, economic integration is proceeding
rapidly, through bilateral free-trade agreements and a variety of
subregional arrangements, such as the Southern Cone Common Market,
or Mercosur, and the Andean Pact.
Indeed, the pace is accelerating. In May, the Andean nations
agreed to create a free-trade zone by Jan. 1. In the week of June
13, at an economic summit, Mexico, Colombia, and Venezuela, soon to
be joined by Ecuador, agreed to implement free trade over 10 years.
Colombia announced a trade pact with the Caribbean Community, and
Brazil continued to broker linkages between Mercosur and other
subregional groups. More broadly, the final summit declaration
established the goal of integrating these pacts into a Latin
American Free Trade Area (LAFTA).
The nations of the Hemisphere must not let this historic
opportunity slip away. Reinforcing the current moves to democracy,
free markets, and economic integration can help to raise the
standard of living of the poor, often destitute people of Latin
America and the Caribbean, produce greater security and stability
in this traditionally volatile region, and alleviate the social
pressures reflected in the recent Chiapas uprising. The US stands
to benefit enormously, both economically and politically. It must
continue to exercise leadership while respecting the sensitivities
of its neighbors.
The Clinton administration has invited the democratically
elected leaders of the Western Hemisphere to meet in Miami on Dec.
9 and 10 to discuss economic cooperation and democratic reforms.
This "summit of the Americas" presents a unique chance to advance
reform and integration. If the chance is not to be wasted, this
meeting must be more than a photo opportunity.
Plans for the summit are still vague, but they seem quite
modest. The assembled leaders are expected to adopt a final
declaration and a program of research and consultation in the areas
of trade and investment, democracy, and sustainable development.
The December summit would be more meaningful if it went beyond
ad hoc declarations and created a substantial, ongoing
institutional framework. It would be clearly premature to create a
free-trade area, or anything resembling it. But recent Asian
experience with economic integration shows that more-modest
institutions can be valuable and politically workable.
We propose that the summit establish an American Forum for
Economic Cooperation (in Spanish, Foro Americano por la Corporacion
Economica, or FACE) as a vehicle for hemispheric integration. FACE
is modeled on the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC),
formed in 1989. APEC is familiar to Latin Americans, since Mexico
is already a member and Chile will join later this year. …