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Negotiators Seek Compromise to Create Free Trade Area of Americas - 2003-11-17

Trade negotiators in Miami, Florida are examining different sets of proposals aimed at reaching a compromise on the creation of a Free Trade Area of the Americas by the end of next year. The talks are taking place under the heaviest security ever seen in Miami.

Deputy trade ministers from 34 countries in the Western Hemisphere are trying to reach agreement on language that would be included in a Declaration of Miami to be issued by trade ministers at the conclusion of the talks later this week. The declaration would outline steps to create a hemispheric-wide free trade zone by the end of next year.

So far the talks have focused on disagreements between the United States and Brazil over U.S. price supports for American farmers that Brazil views as unfair, and U.S. demands that Brazil enact reforms in the areas of investment and intellectual property rights.

Negotiators for the two countries have reportedly reached a compromise that would create a set of common principles for countries to follow in a Free Trade Area of the Americas, but at the same time allow individual countries to choose which specific trade rules they wish to follow.

Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Ross Wilson says compromise is the key to any agreement. "There have been discussions about what are the right mechanisms to provide flexibility to accommodate different countries' sensitivities," he said. "I think the way I would leave that today is that those discussions are ongoing."

Ambassador Wilson says any compromise reached in Miami would not be a retreat from efforts to create a full free trade area. According to media reports, however, the reported agreement between the United States and Brazil has angered other nations at the talks, such as Canada and Chile.

Richard Mills a spokesman for the U.S. Trade Representatives office says the negotiations are difficult but there is a common view in Miami that a free trade area would benefit countries in the region.

"This is a negotiation involving 34 countries. That means it is extremely complex and extremely difficult at times to reach commonality in the quickest fashion," he said. "It is a hard task, but it is something that we believe is an important goal for this hemisphere. That is a view that is shared by others, and that is why, day in and day out, countries are negotiating and working to open their markets and become more integrated."

Business trade groups at the meeting oppose allowing countries to opt out of specific trade rules in the proposed free trade area. When the FTAA was first outlined at the Summit of the Americas in 1994, it was proposed as a full free trade zone eliminating nearly all tariffs and trade restrictions among every country in the hemisphere except Cuba.

Groups opposed to the creation of a Free Trade Area of the Americas are preparing for large-scale protests later in the week. A coalition of labor unions, environmentalists and anti-globalization activists say they expect tens of thousands of protesters at a demonstration on Thursday.

Police sealed off much of downtown Miami as the talks got under way, in a bid to prevent large-scale violence that has marred other recent trade talks in cities around the world.