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Western Lawmakers Call for Referendum on FTAA - 2001-11-22

Western Hemisphere lawmakers meeting in Rio de Janeiro have approved a resolution calling on nations to discuss holding referendums on whether to join the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, or FTAA. The resolution was one of several adopted by the lawmakers at the end of their three-day meeting.

The 330 parliamentarians attending the Rio conference Wednesday approved a series of resolutions, which they will take home for debate in their legislative assemblies.

Among the resolutions is one proposing that nations discuss holding referendums to approve or reject the establishment of a western hemisphere free trade zone. The proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, which is now being negotiated, would go into effect in 2005 and unite North and South America and most of the Caribbean into a single trade bloc.

Hemispheric leaders have endorsed the FTAA, but concerns have been raised by some sectors over possible job losses and other negative economic consequences.

This is why Brazilian Congressman Geraldo Magela says a referendum should be held in each country, once the FTAA is negotiated. Mr. Magela told reporters Wednesday the results of these votes would make clear whether the people of each country want free trade or not.

"Such a referendum could include several questions for people to vote on. It would depend on what each nation decides," he says. " We're not discussing the form here, he said, but the idea that such an important agreement as the FTAA cannot be signed until the people say yes or no."

Congressman Magela is the president of this just concluded Third General Assembly of the Parliamentary Conference of the Americas. In opening the conference Monday, Mr. Magela proposed creating a supra-national Parliament of the Americas, modeled on the European Union's parliament.

Delegates adopted his proposal Wednesday, and also passed other resolutions, including one calling for the creation of a working group to come up with measures to prevent and combat international terrorism. The recommendations of the group would then be submitted to the region's legislative assemblies for discussion and adoption.

The Parliamentary Conference was created as a result of the 1994 Summit of the Americas to promote hemispheric integration and parliamentary democracy. One of the delegates attending the Rio meeting, Washington State representative Velma Veloria, expressed satisfaction with the resolutions passed, including the one proposing referendums on the FTAA. A free trade supporter but also a critic of the way the FTAA negotiations are being conducted, Ms. Veloria says it was important for the Parliamentary Conference to pass such a resolution. "I think it is important that we study what the FTAA is all about, each country needs to study it, because it will impact each of them differently," she says. That was what I had hoped for, for the conference. For all the different effects, we will have commonalties all together, and, then, I think, we can understand the issue of international trade agreements much better."

No date was set for the next Parliamentary Conference General Assembly, but the organization's Executive Committee is expected to meet next year in Mexico.