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Trade Hopes Linger (In the News)

Oct. 26, 2005

Trade hopes linger

Summit of the Americas could get talks rolling

By JENALIA MORENO Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

WACO - International trade experts looked south from the Baylor University campus on Friday with hopes that next month's Summit of the Americas in Argentina will jump-start the stalled Free Trade of the Americas negotiations.

"The deadline for the FTAA has passed and nobody noticed," Jeffrey Schott, a senior fellow at the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for International Economics, said at a two-day conference here on the Free Trade of the Americas.

At the first Summit of the Americas meeting in 1994, leaders of 34 Western Hemisphere nations envisioned creating a trade bloc stretching from Argentina to Canada.

By Jan. 1 of this year they hoped to complete that trade marriage.

But no such accord has been reached, and trade ministers have not met in nearly two years or established a permanent headquarters for the trade office, for which Houston is one of the contenders.

With the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement narrowly receiving congressional approval last July, many are focusing on whether negotiators can revive the larger FTAA deal.

Government leaders have the opportunity to do that during the Fourth Summit of the Americas on Nov. 4-5 in the beachside Argentine city of Mar del Plata. The theme of that summit is "Creating jobs to fight poverty and strengthen democratic governance."

Two years ago, negotiators met in Miami, but the hemisphere's heavyweights -- the United States and Brazil -- couldn't agree on the tough issues, such as agricultural subsidies and intellectual property rights.

Developed and developing countries took sides with either the United States or Brazil during the talks.

"We allowed the negotiations to turn into two negotiators and 32 witnesses," said Alberto Trejos, who served as a negotiator for his nation, Costa Rica.

He described himself as one of the 34 "rascals who killed FTAA." Ultimately, negotiators ended that meeting early and signed what many nicknamed a "FTAA Lite" because it was considered a weak document.

"The U.S. and Brazilian ministers shook hands," Schott said. But "it never turned into an abrazo," he added, using the Spanish word for hug.

jenalia.moreno@chron.com

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