The Greater Caribbean This Week Tracking the FTAA By Norman Girvan
Guyana Chronicle
October 28, 2001

RECENT news from Washington is that the Bush Administration is redoubling its efforts to secure Congressional approval for Trade Promotion Authority, otherwise known as "fast-track".

The Administration's foreign trade representative, Robert Zoellick, is arguing that TPA is essential to swift recovery from the current recession and is part of the economic counter-offensive against terrorism.

TPA would strengthen the negotiating position of the Administration in the upcoming WTO Ministerial meeting and in the FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) talks.

The U.S. and the EU are determined that the WTO meeting will go ahead as scheduled in Doha, Qatar, in early November and will result in agreement to launch a new round of trade liberalisation negotiations.

The administration also wishes to keep the FTAA on track for completion as scheduled by January 1, 2005.

The chief obstacle to Congressional approval of TPA is the insistence by Democrats on the inclusion of firm guarantees on the maintenance of labour and environmental standards in participating countries.

The compromise Bill being promoted by the Administration's supporters would oblige these countries to effectively enforce their labour and environmental laws.

Whether this will go far enough to satisfy Democrats and ensure passage of TPA is still in doubt.

The countries of the Greater Caribbean will be closely monitoring the fate of TPA as a factor in their trade negotiating position.

As a group, Association of Caribbean States (ACS) members have not taken a position on the proposed new WTO round.

The big question relates to the handling of "implementation issues" not satisfactorily addressed after the last WTO agreement, such as special and differential treatment for less developed countries and market access for agricultural goods and textiles.

Some ACS member states support the launch of a new round of negotiations, which would include negotiations on implementation issues.

Others are opposed to a new round, at least until these issues have been satisfactorily resolved.

Some take a middle position: a new round may be launched which includes acceptable guarantees on the implementation issues. A compromise agreement along these lines is the most likely outcome of the Doha meeting.

For the Greater Caribbean, what is significant is that several subject areas of the proposed new WTO round are already part of the FTAA negotiations: for example investment, government procurement, competition, and intellectual property.

Put another way, the countries of the region (Cuba excepted) are already engaged in a "new round" of trade negotiations under the FTAA, which is also required to be "WTO-plus".

Moreover, ACS member states have taken steps to develop a joint position on special and differential treatment of small economies in the FTAA.

The ACS consensus document containing specific proposals was presented to the FTAA Consultative Group on Smaller Economies meeting in September and forwarded to the FTAA Trade Negotiating Committee (TNC) meeting later that month.

The guidelines approved by the TNC meeting, however, were very general and hardly went beyond the previously approved principles.

It is clear that additional work, both on the technical and the political front, will be necessary to give effect to the ACS proposals and bolster the negotiating position of the smaller economies in the FTAA.

Agreement on the treatment of these economies in the FTAA would also strengthen the hand of the region in the WTO negotiations, whether these are confined to implementation issues or are expanded to a new round.

(Prof. Norman Girvan is Secretary General of the Association of Caribbean States. The views expressed are not necessarily the official views of the ACS.)