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The Beginning of the End of the FTAA: Crisis Leads to Scaling Back, Punting Hard Decisions With No Instructions to Overcome Differences

Statement of Lori M. Wallach, Director, Public Citizen's Global Trade Watch

The Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) is in such a state of crisis that at the Miami Ministerial, the United States was forced to choose between no FTAA and FTAA-lite. All that was agreed upon was to scale back the FTAA’s scope and punt the hard decisions to an undefined future venue so as to not make Miami the Waterloo of FTAA.

Powerful social movements in Latin America against the FTAA have made it impossible for those governments to agree to a full NAFTA expansion. Thus, the United States chose this week to make the uber concession – to move away from its “single undertaking” vision of the FTAA to an a la carte approach to ensure that the FTAA lives to stagger on another day. It is hard to overstate what a huge shift this is in the U.S. position.

Because the Miami Ministerial simply delayed all of the same intractable problems the FTAA faced coming into Miami, whether there will even be an FTAA-lite is far from certain. The draft Ministerial text pushed all the difficult decisions without further instructions back to the Trade Negotiating Committee (TNC) – where these issues have been stuck for a year. Perhaps the idea was to push these issues to future meetings with less press attention, less public profile and less symbolic importance.

Perhaps the clearest sign of the Miami FTAA punt strategy is the draft ministerial declaration’s treatment of the deadline for completion of a pact. It reiterates the January 2005 goal, yet provides no interim deadlines or instructions about how to meet it. Indeed, the one firm deadline – September 30, 2004, for market access talks – tells the real story. It makes clear that everyone knows they can’t meet a January 2005 deadline. If they could, that deadline would have to be much earlier and other deadlines would have to have been set. But why provide another signal that the FTAA is in crisis by stating such in the text, when that news can wait until January 2005 dawns and the talks continue on – or not?

The “not” option is still out there. First, the number of treacherous decisions and problems punted to the TNC means nothing was really agreed upon except not to implode the FTAA at Miami. Second, the social movements in many FTAA target countries are only growing in strength – with the very real possibility that elections occurring before the FTAA deadline in several countries could add to the already-growing bloc of countries that either have to represent their public’s interest at the FTAA table or face electoral or governing crises. For the social movements – including the anti-FTAA movement in the United States – half a NAFTA expansion is as unacceptable as a full NAFTA expansion. The NAFTA model has proven to be a failure over its 10 years in operation. Our goal is to replace it altogether, not allow for its expansion either through a watered down FTAA or via bilaterals.