GAO says impasse continues over Free Trade Area of the Americas
The U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) has issued a report saying the impasse over stalled negotiations for an agreement creating a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) remains unbroken.
Prior to the November 2003 meeting of ministers in Miami, 'negotiators made technical advances, but differences over the scope and depth of obligations in the FTAA slowed substantive progress,' the GAO said. However, 'despite adopting a new structure in Miami, negotiations have been suspended since early 2004, and the scheduled conclusion of the FTAA in January 2005, expired without agreement. This spurred recent efforts to re-start the talks,' the GAO explained.
The GAO cited three factors impeding progress in the FTAA negotiations:
* The United States and Brazil have made little progress in resolving basic differences on key issues.
* Member governments have shifted 'energy and engagement from the FTAA to bilateral and multilateral trade agreements,' the GAO noted.
* Two mechanisms intended to facilitate progress — a new negotiating structure and co-chairmanship by the United States and Brazil — have failed so far.
GAO was asked to analyze progress made in FTAA negotiations since the office's last report in April 2003. The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative 'disagreed with our report, stating that it was a poorly framed portrayal of progress and problems in the negotiations, overemphasizing the roles of the United States and Brazil in the current impasse, and did not give sufficient weight to U.S. efforts to make progress,' the GAO said.
The GAO made some changes in the final text in response, but 'disagreed with the assessment made by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative,' the report noted pointedly.
If completed, the Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement would encompass an area of 800 million people and about $13 trillion in the production of goods and services. The 44 nations of the Western Hemisphere formally launched negotiations for a free trade area agreement in 1998.
For the GAO's full report, go to http://www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-05-166. For more information, contact Loren Yager at (202) 512-4347 or YagerLj@gao.gov.