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Rethinking FTAA

Trinidad and Tobago’s Newsday

Rethinking FTAA

5 April 2007

Trinidad and Tobago should rethink its position on the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and instead examine Latin American proposals on the formation of a Latin American-Caribbean trade grouping. Government, it seems, continues to believe that we can still be selected as the headquarters of the FTAA.

Prime Minister Patrick Manning, as has been reported by his Trade and Industry Minister, Ken Valley, indicated to Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez, an unwillingness to support any Latin American and Caribbean trade grouping “because we had gone down the FTAA track.”

Valley has stated though that the FTAA “is going to come at some point in time.”

Would it not make better economic sense for this country to benefit from a free trade association with Latin American markets, which would include Caricom, than to wait, indefinitely, perhaps in vain, for the Government of the United States, to move to reopen talks on FTAA.

If, even without membership in a Latin American free trade area, Trinidad and Tobago has been able to expand its intra-regional trade with Cuba and the Dominican Republic and other relevant nations. Indeed, any such membership would increase this country’s trading opportunities. Already, being a member of the Association of Caribbean States (ACS) has led to a strengthening of Trinidad and Tobago’s exports to countries in this grouping.

Is it that Trinidad and Tobago is afraid of being swamped by imports from a Latin American free trade area? If it wants, it can lobby with the rest of Caricom, to put in place an import duties protective barrier, similar to the Common External Tariff, to protect fledgling non-energy and energy-based industries.

Does Government believe that within the FTAA, if ever this becomes a reality, it would be better positioned to negotiate with the US, not only on expansion of the Caribbean Basin Initiative, but Most Favoured Nation status for specific exports, a facility that no country or set of countries within a Latin American free trade group would likely afford us?

Nevertheless, it has long been accepted that Mercosur, a limited free trade area in South America, has brought immense benefits to its member countries.

Neither Prime Minister Manning nor Valley has told the nation what Government’s reservations are, if any, with respect to its supporting any Latin American free trade grouping.

But there is in place a Free Trade Area between the Caricom and the Dominican Republic, signed on April 2000, within which approximately 85 per cent of Caricom exports to the Dominican Republic, and vice versa, are duty free.

In addition, Caricom and Cuba are signatories to a Trade and Economic Co-operation Agreement. Government should examine closely how these two arrangements have worked out and continue to work out, before taking a final decision on whether or not to reject any idea of participation by this country in a Latin American Free Trade Area.