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IN THE NEWS-Free Trade Area of the Americas - 2003-11-22

Broadcast: November 22, 2003

This is In the News from VOA Special English.

Trade ministers from the Americas gathered in Miami, Florida, this week to discuss plans for a free trade agreement. Thirty-four ministers from North, Central and South American countries took part in the talks. They hope to create a Free Trade Area of the Americas by two-thousand-five.

The agreement would bring together eight-hundred-million people from Argentina to Canada. All the nations in the area would be included except Cuba. If approved, it would create the largest free trade area in the world.

The Free Trade Area of the Americas was first proposed at the Summit of the Americas in Miami in nineteen-ninety-four. The presidents of the thirty-four democracies in the area agreed to begin efforts to unite the economies of the Americas into one free trade area. The goal was to end barriers to trade and investment among member countries. It was also designed to improve living and working conditions of all people in the area and better protect the environment.

Trade ministers from those countries have been meeting for eight years to discuss ways to put the agreement into effect. Negotiations are to be completed by two-thousand-five.

On Wednesday, lower-level negotiators approved a compromise agreement. Trade ministers discussed the proposal during official talks Thursday and Friday. Then, the thirty-four nations were to decide on the next step in negotiations aimed at creating a free trade area. The proposed agreement put forward a limited set of rights and responsibilities for each country to follow. But countries could decide which parts they would accept.

In a final declaration Friday, the trade ministers from the United States, Canada, Latin America and the Caribbean agreed to a greatly reduced plan. It includes a limited number of trade compromises such as tax reductions on industrial goods. The declaration did not include issues such as investment and copyright protection. And agricultural issues will now be dealt with by the World Trade Organization, as called for by the United States.

The United States says it will continue to seek separate trade agreements with individual countries.

The agreement is based on NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement, completed in nineteen-ninety-four. The agreement links Canada, Mexico and the United States. But a recent study says that NAFTA has failed to increase jobs in Mexico and thousands of Mexicans in farming areas have suffered.

Thousands of protesters opposed to the Free Trade Area of the Americas clashed with riot police during the talks in Miami this week. Most of them belong to American labor unions. They say the agreement will result in environmental damage and loss of jobs.

In the News, from VOA Special English, was written by Cynthia Kirk.