The negotiations to establish a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), which would eliminate tariffs and create common trade and investment rules within the 34 democratic nations of the Western Hemisphere, are among the most significant ongoing multilateral trade negotiations for the United States. Two meetings held in April 2001 offer opportunities to inject momentum and set an ambitious pace for the next, more difficult phase of the negotiations. Because of the significance of the FTAA initiative, this report (1) discusses the progress that has been made in the free trade negotiations so far, (2) identifies the challenges that must be overcome to complete a free trade agreement, and (3) discusses the importance of the April meetings of trade ministers and national leaders of participating countries. GAO found that the FTAA negotiations have met the goals and deadlines set by trade ministers. Significant challenges remain, including market access concessions and doubts that key Western Hemisphere leaders will have the political will to embrace the agreement. The April meetings of trade ministers will serve as a transition from the initial proposal phase to the substantive negotiations phase.
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