Free Trade Area of the Americas:

April 2001 Meetings Set Stage for Hard Bargaining to Begin

GAO-01-706T: Published: May 8, 2001. Publicly Released: May 8, 2001.

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The Free Trade of the Americas Agreement (FTAA) would eliminate tariffs and create common trade and investment rules within the 34 democratic nations of the Western Hemisphere. The trade ministers for FTAA faced an ambitious agenda at the April 2001 meetings. Accommodations reached by the ministers on controversial issues, such as labor and the environment, antidumping, and nations with small economies, allowed countries to set forth basic principles while keeping topics on the table for future resolution. As a result of the movement on these controversial issues, the trade ministers were able to set out clear objectives and deadlines to promote progress during the next 18 months of the negotiations. The trade ministers told negotiating groups to (1) eliminate material that is in dispute to the maximum extent possible; (2) develop recommendations by April 1, 2002, on the methods and ground rules for negotiation; and (3) develop, where appropriate, inventories of tariffs, nontariff barriers, subsidies, and other practices that distort trade. To build public support for the FTAA process, and to promote transparency in the negotiating process, the trade ministers agreed to publicly release the draft text of the nine negotiating groups. The trade ministers also sought to enhance the role of civil society--meaning nongovernmental groups representing business, labor, environment, and other interests--in the FTAA process. The April 2001 meeting added momentum to the FTAA negotiations by setting new deadlines for completing and implementing the agreement. However, boosting U.S. congressional and public support, dealing with a large and complex agenda of issues, and accommodating the diverse needs and positions of participants are among the challenges facing FTAA negotiators in the hard bargaining ahead.

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