Summit Falls Flat
WHILE many analysts are calling last week’sSummit of the Americas a failure, all was not lost forPresident Abel Pacheco, who came home from Argentinawith an assurance from U.S. President George W. Bushthat the pressure is off regarding the Central AmericanFree-Trade Agreement (CAFTA).Bush told Pacheco to “take your time” regardingCAFTA, the Costa Rican leader told reporters followingtheir bilateral meeting Nov. 4 in the Argentineanseaside resort of Mar de Plata. Although Costa Ricaremains the only CAFTA signatory country not to haveratified the agreement, Bush showed respect for thiscountry’s legislative process, Pacheco said.Beyond this, however, Pacheco had little positive to say about the two-day summit between the Western Hemisphere’s 34 democratically elected leaders.“I saw the same thing I saw three yearsago – the same promises, that we are brothers,that we will work together… but wecontinue separated, we continue poor, wecontinue miserable, we continue destroyingthe environment,” Pacheco said.ECHOING opinions made by otherleaders and analysts around the region,Pacheco added that an opportunity was lostwhen five dissenting leaders from SouthAmerica rejected moving forward with theFree Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA).“The general feeling was that weshould work to see how to structure atreaty to integrate the American nations onthe commercial level, on the social level,on the level of justice, on the level of education,on the level of medicine, for thebenefit of all of our countries… and yet,there were people who didn’t even want totalk about the topic,” Pacheco said. “Forme it was disconcerting.”Pacheco, Mexican President VicenteFox and others had hoped the summitwould kick-start negotiations of the FTAA,which have been stalled for years. In theend, consensus could not be reached,despite hours of extra negotiations, and theschism between the 29 countries in supportand five nations against made its way intothe summit’s final declaration.Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay,which make up the Mercosur tradebloc, argued that it makes no sense to proceedwith FTAA talks until the results ofthe World Trade Organization’s DohaRound negotiations next month in HongKong are complete, the wire service EFEreported. The nations object to the agriculturesubsidies the United States providesits farmers.Subsidies are also the main point ofcontention in the Doha Round, where thebattle is intensified because the heavilysubsidized European Union countries areamong the 148 participating nations. TheWTO negotiations are considered pivotalto the future success of international freetrade.“The best opportunity to deliver theblessings of trade to every citizen in thishemisphere is the Doha Round of negotiations,”President Bush said following thesummit, during a visit to Brazil. “A successfulDoha Round will open up marketsfor farm products, and services, and industrialgoods across this hemisphere andacross the globe.”Costa Rican Trade Minister ManuelGonzález, who also attended the summit,was more pessimistic, saying there is“enormous concern,’’ especially amongdeveloping countries, about what the tradetalks will accomplish.THE FTAA – which, in theory, wouldcreate a free-trade zone from Alaska toTierra del Fuego, encompassing 800 millionpeople – was proposed in 1994 at theSummit of the Americas in Miami. Thirty-fournations of the Western Hemisphere,excepting only Cuba, formally launchednegotiations toward a FTAA in 1998, andset a 2005 deadline for concluding anaccord, EFE reported. This is the first timein the 11-year history of the Summit of theAmericas that participating countries didnot agree to advance the FTAA.Along with the Mercosur nations, thefifth country to reject the advancement ofnegotiations was Venezuela, whosePresident, Hugo Chávez, is an outspokencritic of the possible free-trade area andhoped to “bury” it once and for all duringthe summit.This opinion was backed by thousandsof angry protesters, who – also protestingagainst the presence of President Bush –destroyed at least a dozen shops, set fire toa bank branch and threw up barricades aspolice pushed them back, often with theaid of tear gas and rubber bullets, accordingto EFE. A total of 87 people werearrested, although most were later released.ALTHOUGH the official theme of thesummit was Creating Jobs to Fight Povertyand Strengthen Democratic Governance,trade dominated the event. Bush, alongwith U.S. Secretary of State CondoleezzaRice, met with CAFTA’s signatory countriesto discuss its implementation inJanuary. And while the FTAA is stalled,negotiations of other bilateral and multilateralagreements between the United Statesand Panama (see Nica Times), and theUnited States and the Andean countries,moved forward.In addition, during the bilateral meetingbetween Pacheco and Bush, the CostaRican President surprised Bush by tellinghim that if Latin American banana sales toEurope are reduced – as they would be ifan increased banana tariff threatened bythe European Union takes effect – illegalimmigration to the United States willincrease.“I think Bush was left thinking aboutthis a lot,” Pacheco told the daily LaNación.MEANWHILE, Mexico’s Fox pitchedmoving forward with a FTAA of the willing.“We – the large majority of countries –would have to see whether we’ll go aheadwith the establishment of the FTAA. Andin the end those who feel it benefits themwill join, and those that don’t, won’t,” Foxsaid, according to EFE.Fox, who believes his experience withfree trade through the North AmericanFree-Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has beena success, also pushed for Costa Rican freetrade when he met with Pacheco during avisit to Costa Rica last week, en route toArgentina (TT, Nov. 4).“He tried to encourage me to press theaccelerator a little on (CAFTA), thinkingabout the good of the Costa Rican people.I told him that here we have a rhythm thathas to be respected,” Pacheco said.During his conversations withPacheco, Fox said the free-trade agreementsigned 10 years ago between Costa Ricaand Mexico has been a driving force in theeconomic growth of the two countries –trade between them is eight times what itwas a decade ago. The two leaders pledgedto work to further the involvement of smalland medium businesses in internationalexchange.Fox also pledged to help Costa Ricadeal with high oil prices, “to make sure thatenergy isn’t something that hinders ourgrowth,” Fox said.Mexico is entering the second phase ofa project to modernize a Costa Rican oilrefinery in Puerto Moín de Limón, on theCaribbean coast. Mexican leaders also planto build a $3 billion refinery for heavyMaya oil in Central America, althoughthey have yet to decide if it will be built inCosta Rica, Guatemala or Panama.