FTAA draft lacks wide-ranging nature the U.S. initially sought

By Timothy J. Gibbons
Published by Florida Times-Union on November 20, 2003.

MIAMI -- Trade negotiators seeking to form a free trade area covering the entire Western Hemisphere agreed Wednesday to a rough draft. But the draft lacks the wide-ranging nature the United States initially sought after two of Jacksonville's largest port customers -- Brazil and Venezuela -- expressed concerns about such an approach.

Wednesday, trade negotiators approved a draft text outlining the world's largest free trade region, adopting a buffet-style version that allows countries to opt out of the more controversial clauses of the agreement, officials from the Brazilian delegation said.

The lowering of trade barriers among 34 countries in the Western Hemisphere -- a combined market of 800 million consumers and a gross domestic product of $14 trillion -- was pitched as a boost for port cities like Jacksonville, which could see an increase in the amount of goods flowing in and out.

"It would let ports, like Jacksonville ports, see more activity from Latin America," Jorge Arrizurieta, executive director of Florida FTAA, said before the summit.

Yet no one, including Arrizurieta, could put a precise figure on how a large of an economic impact the agreement would have on Jacksonville.

That agreement appeared to be in jeopardy earlier this week when several nations expressed doubts about a one-size-fits-all approach. In response, the United States announced that it would begin independent negotiations with 11 countries in the region, including the Dominican Republic, Colombia, Peru, Ecuador, Panama and Bolivia.

Brazil is the largest foreign country receiving exports shipped from Jacksonville. It is also one of the top importers, sending a variety of raw materials, such as wood pulp, through the port.

Venezuela, the port's fourth-largest exporter and sixth largest importer, also expressed concerns this week about the direction the negotiations have taken.

These negotiations were seen, in part, as a tactic to force Brazil's hand, leading it to negotiate rather than be left out. "My hope is that Brazil will recognize they're being isolated," Franklin Vargo, vice president for international economic affairs at the National Association of Manufacturers, said early Wednesday.

This is a strategy that Brazilian trade representative Celso Amorim said was unlikely to work. "Brazil, for several years, has been the second largest recipient of foreign investment," he said. "I don't think the United States is signing these agreements to put pressure on Brazil."

Those agreements would be a "regional bilateral parallel to [the FTAA]," said Ambassador Luis Lauredo, executive director of Miami FTAA. "People realize this is a window of opportunity."

But several sticking points seemed to limit who would benefit from that opportunity. One main sticking point: a 30-cent-per-gallon tariff on Brazilian orange juice charged by the U.S. government. Brazil sought the elimination of such agricultural subsidies, while Florida citrus farmers said it was vital. The two countries have also split on intellectual property rights, government purchasing and other issues.

The agreement would allow countries to opt out of various portions of the pact, although the draft doesn't specify which portions are optional. The ministers will start two days of meetings today to finalize the text.

It remains to be seen what impact any agreement reached will have on Jacksonville's ports.

"Eighty percent of all of our cargo moving in and out of the harbor comes from Latin America, including the Caribbean," said Robert Peek, spokesman for the Jacksonville Port Authority. "There is some east-west trade, but when you talk about cargo moving in and out of Jacksonville, it's going to the Americas."


This is a showcase of the work done by Timothy J. Gibbons during a journalism career now stretching back more than a decade.

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