Trade Ministers from 34 countries in the Western Hemisphere ended their meetings in Miami, Florida late Thursday by agreeing to a compromise framework for creating a Free Trade Area of the Americas by the end of next year. The meeting ended after a day of protests by anti-globalization activists which police say led to more than 50 arrests.
Trade ministers ended their talks one day early by adopting a compromise proposal designed by the meetings two co-chairs, Brazil and the United States. The agreement sets basic rights and obligations for each country to follow but allows countries to opt out of parts of the agreement they do not support.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick says the agreement will move the process of creating a Free Trade Area of the Americas forward, which he says remains a difficult task.
"This remains a tremendous challenge, to try and create free trade all throughout the hemisphere - half the world. Thirty-four democratic countries from small countries in the Caribbean to large countries like Brazil and the United States. Developed countries, developing countries, I do not underestimate the challenge of this task," he said.
The compromise agreement agreed to is the result of negotiations between the United States and Brazil who have serious trade differences. At the World Trade Organization talks that failed to reach agreement recently in Mexico, Brazil led a coalition of more than 20 countries who objected to agricultural subsidies in the United States and Europe. U.S. officials want to see Brazil reform its intellectual property laws and other laws related to investor protection.
Speaking through a translator at the conclusion of the Miami meeting Brazil's Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said without compromise, there will be no Free Trade Area of the Americas.
"I need to make it clear that everyone shares this political vision (FTAA). This is a process in which we want to move forward. We would like to have everything here on paper, but we are not going to be able to do that," he said. "So, what we have done is something that will allow us to make progress towards a Free Trade Area of the Americas."
Business groups and Mexico's Economy Secretary, Fernando Canales, expressed disappointment at the compromise, saying it amounts to a watered-down agreement which does not go far enough to allow free trade to flourish.
Earlier in the day Labor Unions held a rally attended by thousands to protest the creation of the FTAA, which they say will encourage the transfer of jobs out of the United States to countries where workers earn low wages and have no rights. John Sweeney, the president of the AFL-CIO, said Thursday free trade agreements have had a negative impact on American workers.
"Trade is not working for working families. We have the experience of ten years of NAFTA, (The North American Free Trade Agreement) where the trade deficit has gone from nine billion dollars to 87-billion dollars over the past ten years," he said. :That has created a tremendous loss of jobs in the United States alone, and it is about time that our trade policies protected the core labor standards of workers and addressed environmental and human rights concerns."
Thousands of mostly young anti-globalization activists also did their best to disrupt the Miami trade meeting Thursday, as demonstrators clashed with police in Miami's downtown streets. About two thousand heavily armed police in riot gear formed a series of unbreakable lines, creating a security cordon that kept the protesters far away from the trade negotiators.