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FTAA Talks Enter 'Last Stage,' Trade Officials Say After Meetings

(Wednesday, April 16, 2003 -- CropChoice news) -- John Nagel, Bureau of National Affairs: PUEBLA, Mexico--Following talks that mark the "last stage" toward reaching a hemisphere-wide Free Trade Area of the Americas, negotiators from 34 nations were instructed to intensify talks on agricultural issues and develop a plan for seeking assistance for poorer nations making the transition to liberalized trade, the co-presidents of the FTAA Trade Negotiations Committee said April 11.

The FTAA Trade Negotiations Committee is made of up deputy trade ministers from the 34 Western Hemisphere democracies participating in FTAA talks. A goal set at the December 1994 Summit of the Americas in Miami was to conclude negotiations toward the FTAA by Jan. 1, 2005.

The Trade Negotiations Committee is co-chaired by Peter Allgeier, deputy U.S. Trade Representative, and Clodoaldo Hugueney, Brazil's undersecretary general for integration, economic & foreign trade issues.

Alluding to the latest round of talks in Puebla in a news conference, Allgeier said, "This really marks the last stage of the negotiations toward the FTAA. We reviewed the entire range of issues," including market access, the text of the agreement, assistance to poor nations and greater participation of civil society in the FTAA process, he said.

The Trade Negotiations Committee, which oversees negotiations between FTAA ministerial meetings, met the week of April 7 at the headquarters of the FTAA Secretariat in Puebla.

The next meeting of the Trade Negotiations Committee starts July 7 in El Salvador. The next FTAA ministerial meeting takes place Nov. 20-21 in Miami.

Agriculture, Market Access Issues

The Trade Negotiations Committee reached an "important understanding" in meetings on market access and the sensitive issue of agriculture trade, Hugueney said.

"We arrived at an understanding that preserves all the previous decisions on the need to talk about all the agricultural themes here, in the FTAA and in the context of the hemisphere. But also, the negotiations seek to find new alternatives for dealing with [agricultural] questions that permit compatibility with what happens in Geneva and in the Doha Round and what is done here in the FTAA. I think that the result on agriculture is a good result, but it is not a final result. It is a result that gives more space for advancing the agricultural negotiations of the FTAA," Hugueney said.

The Trade Negotiations Committee instructed the FTAA's Negotiating Group on Agriculture to "intensify its discussions on all issues on its agenda, in particular those related to export subsidies and to all other practices that distort trade in agriculture products, including those that have an equivalent effect to agriculture export subsidies, without any exceptions and without prejudging the outcome," guidance issued to negotiators said.

Allgeier said that FTAA negotiators "agreed that [agriculture] is a key issue in [FTAA] negotiations and in the World Trade Organization, and as evidence of that [the United States] has made what I think is indisputably the most ambitious proposal before the WTO on agriculture," which includes the elimination of export subsidies, decreases in other domestic support subsidies, and the opening of markets by reducing tariffs, and eliminating other barriers to agricultural trade.

No Product Excluded

On the issue of FTAA market access, Allgeier noted that the presentation of tariff elimination offers from all FTAA nations Feb. 15 was an "important milestone" for the FTAA.

Allgeier noted that "there is no product excluded from our offers, no agricultural product, no industrial product. We have said that we would put everything on the negotiating table, and on February 15 we put everything on the negotiating table regarding tariffs."

Allgeier and Hugueney said that the Trade Negotiations Committee provided important guidance that will assist in counteroffers being presented by FTAA negotiators by June 15, including harmonization of base tariffs and harmonization of initial offers that may have been expressed in different nomenclatures.

Revised tariff phase-out offers are to be presented "to the extent possible, on the basis of the Harmonized System 2002," instructions issued to negotiators said.

"We are working on this presentation of initial offers. Everything is very advanced in this context," Hugueney added.

Text of Agreement to Take Shape

Negotiators also received instructions outlining the development of the text of the FTAA.

The Trade Negotiations Committee "recognizes the need to design an overall structure of the agreement and to harmonize the formats of the individual chapters," guidance issued to negotiators said.

The Trade Negotiations Committee instructed the Technical Committee on Institutional Issues "to develop a proposed architectural framework for the agreement" to be submitted for review.

The Technical Committee on Institutional Issues was also instructed "to prepare a template for the draft chapters" for submission at July meetings. Draft chapters will be submitted to the Trade Negotiating Committee eight weeks prior to the Miami ministerial.

Technical, Other Assistance to Poorer Nations

A key issue for negotiators in the Puebla talks was the issue of the differences in the levels of economic development of the 34 countries participating in FTAA talks, Allgeier said.

He said that technical assistance for less developed nations were discussed "at length."

"We have among the richest economies of the world and some of the poorer counties of the world, and somehow we have to find an agreement that will mean something positive for each of those countries, and that is the biggest challenge that we have. So we talked at length about that, and we talked about implementing a program of technical assistance in these countries," Allgeier said.

Assistance to poorer nations in some cases could take the form of fast tariff phase-outs. The United States in February offered particularly quick elimination of tariffs from the poorest countries in the hemisphere, Allgeier said.

The FTAA's Consultative Group on Smaller Economies was instructed to develop an action plan for future meetings that will include development and financial officials, international financial institutions, international agencies, and interested private entities to discuss "financing and implementation" of measures to assist poorer nations.

Poor countries are making up a list of priorities that they will present in meetings with representatives of institutions, including the U.S. Agency for International Development and the Inter-American Development Bank, to discuss "what sort of assistance will be forthcoming," Allgeier said.

The Trade Negotiations Committee also gave instructions to increase the transparency of the FTAA process by holding a series of meetings throughout the hemisphere between government officials and representatives of civil society, Allgeier and Hugueney said.

Among other measures, the FTAA is improving its Web site and issuing public statements following meetings, the officials said.