Towards A Free Trade Agreement of The Americas, FTAA
After almost forty hours of travel between spending time at airports and in the air, flying with TRA, 757 and A300 planes constituted my trip to Quito, Ecuador and back to St. Lucia having experienced my first participation at an International Trade Negotiation Forum.
It has been a long road since the first summit of the Americas held in Miami, Florida, December 9-11, 1994 supported by the Organisation of American States (OAS). In the continuing efforts the VII Americas Business Forum "was held in Quito, Ecuador from Tuesday, October 29 to Thursday 31, 2002 at the Swissotel to facilitate the ongoing negotiations that will allow 34 countries to conclude an agreement on the "Free Trade Agreement of the Americas." The FTAA is already viewed as the most important trading block with 800 million consumers, a total gross domestic product of US$ 14 billion in comparison with the European Union of US$ 7.8 billion.
It is hoped that an agreement will be reached by the end of 2004 with implementation in 2005. There are a few items which are linked to developments within the WTO negotiations. This is especially important as it relates to Agriculture Subsidies.
Areas negotiated at the Forum were:- (1) Agriculture (2) Government Procurement, (3) Investments, (4) Market Access with a sub-workshop or origin regime, (5) Subsidies, Antidumping and Countervailing Duties, (6) Dispute Settlement (7) Services, (8) Intellectual Property Rights, (9) Competition Policy, (10) Smaller Economies, (11) Electronic Commerce.
Negotiations on the subject headings were intense and language was an important consideration. There were in many areas, problems in translation from Spanish to English as documents had to be redrafted in many instances. The United States and Brazil had their swords drawn. The Brazilians when any major changes had to be made asked for time to check it out with their delegation. The process of negotiation is serious business as what is finally accepted into the concluded agreement will form the basis for governing the actions relating to trade in the future.
Caricom for the first time registered the presence of such a large Private Sector gathering. St. Lucia had maximum representation by its Private Sector based on allocation for six representatives which comprised of Presidents of the St. Lucia Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture, St. Lucia Manufacturers Association and St. Lucia Employers Federation, St. Lucia Industrial and Small Business Association and Executive Directors of St. Lucia Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture and St. Lucia Hotel and Tourism Association.
In a last minute rush Caricom sought to get its recommendations accepted for presentation at the next forum with success. While the Business Forum was being held, the Technical Negotiating Committee (TNC) was in session, preparing for a meeting of the Ministerial Council where again St. Lucia was represented by Senator - Honourable Julian R. Hunte - Minister of External Affairs, International Trade and Civil Aviation. He was associated with colleague Ministers from Jamaica, Barbados, Guyana and Trinidad.
The Caricom grouping comprises of 15 States and is headed at the FTAA Ministerial Council by Hon. K.D. Knight, Minister of External Affairs and International Trade of Jamaica.
The process of inputing information into the agreement is Private Sector to government at the local level, into the Regional Technical Negotiating Council for onward transmission to the Ministerial Council and ultimately to Heads of Government.
During the course of the 3 days the Caricom Private Sector representatives held three meetings among themselves, two with representatives of the RNM and one with Minister - Honourable K.D. Knight. Unfortunately, due to security arrangements, the other Ministers who were present in Quito could not attend the briefing with Minister Honourable K.D. Knight. The other Ministers expressed their disappointment at not being able to attend the briefing with members of the Private Sector who lined the corridor to extend greetings to them.
On Friday, November 1, 2002, Mr. Guy Mayers President of the St. Lucia Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture stayed back in Quito to join Senator, Honourable Julian R. Hunte in attending the Ministerial Council meeting. Government and Private Sector have come a long way in the process of negotiating Trade and other Economic Agreements and as a result this new relationship has placed a serious responsibility on the Private Sector to make tangible contribution to the various processes. This will need substantial institutional strengthening. There is need for Trade Specialists to assist in research and presentation of papers to ensure that we get the best deals for our region.
At the local level efforts at setting up institutions to assist in the process must be expedited. The International Trade Council which will be housed within the Ministry of External Affairs, International Trade and Civil Aviation and the National Coalition of Service Industries which will be housed in the St. Lucia Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture must come on stream in the shortest possible time.
The matter of the FTAA Agreement is not about Government and Private Sector, it is about civil society in which we all exist. It is everybody's business as this point came home to me when the people of Ecuador turned out in thousands to protest the FTAA Agreement as they see nothing in it for them unless America changes its approach from dominance to co-operation.
At the closing session, Honourable Heinz Moeller Freire, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Foreign Trade, Industrialisation, Fisheries and Competitiveness in his emotionally charged speech responded to the protest on the streets by demanding that the benefits of the FTAA must redound to a better standard of living for the common people. America must change its approach to its relationship with its partners.
The representatives gathered at the VII Americas Business Forum were guests of two luncheons. On Wednesday, 30/10/02 the Mayoress Shirley Franklin of Atlanta, USA, took the opportunity to launch Atlanta's bid to be home to the Permanent FTAA Secretariat citing Atlanta as the Cross Roads of the Americas and in the case of their proposed relationship with FTAA, she sees Atlanta as The Global Gateway!
The Mayoress of Atlanta was supported by Mr. Tom Donahue, President of the USA Chamber of Commerce and Mr. Roberto Peon, CMO Bellsouth- International. Letters of open invitation from President Jimmy Carter and Ambassador Andrew Young were distributed to the gathering.
On Thursday, 31/10/02 the luncheon address was given by Mr. Mario Gilberto Cortopassi, International President of ISO on the topic of "Standards and Systems." He stressed the importance of standards in global trade as ISO seeks to create one continent with no borders by removing technical barriers to trade. Purchasing Sectors and Consumers Association will benefit.
The evenings were spent securing information and visiting places of interest. Tuesday, it was a welcome Cocktail. Wednesday, 30/10/02 it was dinner and show at the Equator Monument (Altitude O). I stood on the center of the earth, another moment in time where God has expanded my border - the Jabez story. - 1 Chronicles 4:10 (my miracle).
Thursday, 31/10/02, another moment in time, Closing Event at the Colonial Center of the City of Quito - San Francisco Convent, a celebration of Architectural excellence. The evening was highlighted with a brief welcome address by the Mayor of Quito and music played by a Symphony Orchestra. A lavish reception followed.
Walking away from the VII Americas Business Forum I have learnt a few lessons and have lots to ponder upon over the period ahead. It has been a great experience. As we look towards the future (1) Caricom has to be more pro-active in the negotiations as it heads for the home stretch.
Some gains have been made, principally among them is the acceptance of the term Small States with which a number of countries in Latin America are seeking to be associated.
Caricom has 15 of the 34 States in the FTAA grouping. The Caricom block is formidable as negotiations begin for selection of a domicile for the Permanent Secretariat of the FTAA. Our own Trinidad is in the race among others such as Atlanta which has begun to canvass, Miami's presence was very visible with as many as 20 representatives attending the Forum. Panama City produced a colourful brochure, Houston-Texas although in the race was not visible and Mexico where the temporary Secretariat will be held until the next Forum.
Trinidad's chances are as good as any. Can we stay united? Caricom has 15 votes just need three for a majority - Canada, USA, Dominican Republic and who else can we count on? However, Caricom must stick together. We have done it before, let us do it again. The stakes are going to be high.
In all this where would be our Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME)? I am an eternal optimist but I wouldn't hold my breath on this one - that the CSME will come out ahead of FTAA. It is a challenge - can we rise to the occasion?
There is talk coming out of the Forum about the need for a FTAA Visa to facilitate free movement of labour. I am not sure I heard right, under Services, it was proposed - FTAA Visa allowing non-graduates with experience to travel freely. Can this voice be heard beyond the Walls of the FTAA Forum given the short time left to conclude the Agreement? Caricom will have to prioritise its involvement and seek to extract the most from areas of Agriculture, Market Access, Services and Investments.
This initiative appeals for the involvement of Civil Society. Get on board! To assist you in understanding the issues, I invite you to visit the following websites:- www.thebriefingroom.net - www.counciloftheamericas.org/ - www.sice.oas.org - http://usinfo.state.gov - www.netamericas.net
I feel assured that the seriousness coming out of the debates over the 3 days and the level of commitment displayed by representatives of the Private Sector and Officials of Caricom, OECS and the Regional Negotiating Machinery, that everyone is on board with the Governments of the Region to ensure that all in our power is done to get results for the peoples of the Americas and the Small States in particular.
The Forum was open to the media. Unfortunately, I did not see the presence of our media at the regional or country level. This omission must be corrected as we seek to enter into future serious debate at various fora. The media has a serious responsibility to educate and inform Civil Society on the bread and butter issues.
It is time that we not only consider, but rather take action to introduce Spanish as a compulsory subject in our class rooms. Members of the St. Lucia Private Sector agreed that something should be done at all levels to give Caribbean people a working knowledge of the Spanish language.
Information on the Forum's conclusions are available on diskette from your Private Sector Associations.
God bless you all. Keep the Faith, God is in charge!
Ed Harris @ Large