Free-Trade Summit Ends Without Pact

Times Staff Writers

Trade ministers from 34 Western Hemisphere countries, acknowledging their profound differences over how to create the world's biggest free-trade zone, ended their semiannual summit Thursday a day ahead of schedule and with no agreement on key issues.

At a session relatively free of the anarchist violence plaguing other recent global integration summits, the architects of the emerging Free Trade Area of the Americas made clear they had little more to discuss after agreeing to temporarily shelve contentious issues such as agricultural subsidies, investment rules and respect for intellectual property.

Those and other trade concerns will instead be tackled at a summer FTAA meeting in Brazil. At that point, there will be less than six months remaining before a January 2005 deadline to write and ratify a pact. The ministers, however, insisted Thursday that they were "on track" to bring it to life.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick and the co-host of the Miami summit, Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, heralded as an achievement a declaration that gives guidance on the next round of negotiations. And both contrasted this summit with the failed World Trade Organization meeting in Cancun, Mexico, in September when many of the same type of disputes scuttled the talks and threw the global trade forum into an impasse.

"We learned some lessons. The Cancun WTO ended early too, and not in such happy circumstances," Zoellick said.

Negotiations have now advanced into an intense new phase after years of exploring "general concepts and having people talking past one another," he said.

Calling the declaration "important steps forward," Zoellick also conceded that it was "very clear that very important work lies ahead of us."

He confirmed that the draft treaty still contains more than 5,000 disputed clauses and that none were resolved this week.

Amorim likewise proclaimed progress, describing this week's session as "enabling," saying it provided the conditions needed to proceed into the final year of the FTAA's creation.

"We are sure there will be success next year and in a fashion where we can address deadlines that are both realistic and pragmatic," he said, attributing the outcome Thursday to "good chemistry" among the negotiators.

The declaration issued by the ministers as they headed off for an unexpected day of sun, sightseeing or shopping glossed over deep divides in pursuit of a common market encompassing 800 million people. It says simply that the drafters needed to "recognize the need for flexibility to take into account the needs and sensitivities of all FTAA partners."

It also acknowledges each member country's right to "assume different levels of commitments," essentially authorizing states to opt out of any objectionable provisions. It also calls for "an appropriate balance of rights and obligations" but gives no direction on how to devise a formula.

The declaration also says negotiators should continue to pursue agreement in nine different spheres: market access; agriculture; services; investment; government procurement; intellectual property; competition policy; subsidies, anti-dumping and countervailing duties; and dispute settlement.

Some or all of the provisions in each category were left out of the discussions here for the sake of maintaining what consensus there is.

Zoellick defended the summit's decision to put aside the confrontational issue of how and when to eliminate U.S. farm subsidies, which allow U.S. producers to dump below-cost produce in developing countries, undercutting their competitors there.

"I believe we can't do export subsidies and domestic support in this forum because then what leverage would we have with the Europeans and Japan?" Zoellick said, referring to government aid to exporters from those countries that is two to three times as generous as U.S. subsidies.

All 34 ministers signed the declaration Thursday, but those from Canada, Mexico and Chile made clear their disappointment.

"Certain countries, Mexico among them, had expectations of achieving greater progress," said Mexican Economy Minister Fernando Canales. "We expected greater integration, greater definition of what we want as a hemisphere for free trade."

Canadian Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew noted, however, that the forum had been at risk of collapse just 10 days ago, when other ministers learned of the U.S.-Brazil agreement to avoid conflict and leave the difficult issues for later.

Four days of talks and workshops to craft language for the emerging treaty highlighted the deep differences among the nations -- comprising all of the Western Hemisphere except for communist Cuba. For the first time in the effort's nine-year history, the forum invited globalization critics to take part in preliminary discussions and air their views in a civilized fashion.

Having a seat at the table -- if not a real vote in the process -- groups claiming to defend jobs, the environment, cultural sovereignty and the rights of the poor, sick and oppressed offered alternatives and revisions to the plans being drawn by diplomats and business leaders.

"Why would you want to be in the streets if you are serious about making a difference," summit executive director Luis Lauredo said of the more than 400 civil society delegates who offered proposals to the ministers for consideration in crafting treaty language.

Making partners of former enemies helped curb the level of violent street protests that have disrupted previous trade summits.

Blocks away from the conference zone, platoons of riot police used truncheons, tear gas, pepper spray and stun guns to keep protesters at bay, but the majority of those opposed to all or parts of the FTAA effort peacefully expressed their views in marches through the barricaded streets of an otherwise empty downtown Miami.

About 8,000 labor union members marched peacefully to signal their opposition to plans for the Free Trade Area of the Americas, which labor leaders say would enrich the few at the expense of the majority.

At the end of the union march in late afternoon, police said groups of nonunion protesters lighted a number of trash fires in the street, overturned dumpsters, tore down street signs and covered buildings with graffiti. The protesters pelted police with stones, water bottles and flares, and officers responded with tear gas and rubber bullets.

Police said 74 people were arrested on charges including obstruction, battery, aggravated assault, unlawful assembly, resisting arrest, trespassing and burglary.

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