FTAA off? - Regional heads explore option to US-proposed Free Trade Area

Jamaica Gleaner

Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) off? - Regional heads explore option to US-proposed Free Trade Area

published: Friday | February 10, 2006

Ross Sheil, Staff Reporter

CARIBBEAN LEADERS are reconsidering the region’s strategic alliances, including a possible free trade agreement with Venezuela as an alternative to the stalled Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) negotiations.

Prime Minister P.J. Patterson made the announcement in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad at a press conference on Wednesday following his final chairing of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Prime Ministerial Sub-Committee on External Negotiations. This was ahead of the two-day Inter-sessional Meeting of CARICOM Heads of Government which began yesterday.

Mr. Patterson added that there was also a need for current bilateral agreements with Cuba by CARICOM to be converted into a collective agreement with that country.

"All of us are required to examine what are the prospects of ever reaching a Free Trade Agreement for the Americas. Simply put, is the FTAA on or is it just going to be a mirage," he said.

The CARICOM Regional Negotiating Machinery (RNM) is conducting a preliminary study on the region’s options on the issue. This will be completed in the next two to three months, according to RNM Executive Director Richard Bernal.

Caribbean heads of government will further their discussions when they meet again in St. Kitts and Nevis in July.

Full legal status

Mr. Patterson also said leaders are considering expanding the RNM, giving it more technical staff as well as giving it full legal status. Legal status will enable the RNM to enter into contract relations with third parties, such as donor agencies. Such dealings are currently being handled on behalf of the RNM and CARICOM by the government of Barbados.

Next week the RNM will travel to Brussels, Belgium, to begin the technical negotiation stage of the Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union. This process began in 2004 and is due to end in December of next year, with meetings held alternately in CARICOM and Europe.

Under discussion are market access for goods and services, investment and trade-related issues, institutional arrangements and dispute settlement.

The Caribbean and the FTAA

CARICOM has been concerned about the progress of the proposed 34-nation hemispheric free trade agreement, since negotiations broke down in February 2004.

FTAA is being marginalised by other similar agreements (attempts to give it the kiss of life by co-chairs the United States and Brazil have been unsuccessful). For example, the South American common market, MERCOSUR, and especially Brazil, wants to consolidate trade and strategic relations in that region.

And Venezuela has sought to extend its strategic position in the Caribbean with its PetroCaribe oil initiative. A free trade agreement between CARICOM and Venezuela or an agreement with Cuba would lessen the significance of the FTAA within the Caribbean.

The U.S. has itself conducted separate bilateral negotiations with individual countries involved in the FTAA.

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source: Jamaica Gleaner