Argentine Minister Says Meager WTO Results Bode Badly for Pan-American Free Trade Deal

Original Publication Date: 
28 December, 2005

BUENOS AIRES--Argentina's Foreign Minister Jorge Taiana Dec. 21 said insufficient progress on farm trade liberalization at the latest round of World Trade Organization talks held in Hong Kong bode badly for the U.S.-sponsored Free Trade Area of the Americas.

"The difficulties on the road to hemispheric free trade remain in place" after the Dec. 13-18 round of global negotiations, Taiana told reporters at a prize award ceremony for exporting companies.

Argentina was one of the five countries that torpedoed the FTAA at the Summit of the Americas meeting Nov. 4-5 in the Argentine beach resort of Mar del Plata, attended by President Bush and 33 other Western Hemisphere leaders--all in the Americas with the exception of Cuba's Fidel Castro.

The four Southern Common Market (Mercosur) members Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, and Uruguay, plus Venezuela, demanded in Mar del Plata more farm trade concessions from the United States, saying American agricultural subsidies and other farm-support policies made it impossible to resume the stalled talks.

While that meeting ended at an impasse, both Argentina and Brazil at the time said things could improve dramatically if good progress was made by the WTO on farm trade. This has not happened, the Argentine minister said, calling headway made at the Hong Kong ministerial meeting that set a 2013 deadline for eliminating export subsidies for most agricultural products "very modest".

Looking for More Progress

Yet, Taiana said there was still room for hope. "We want to see more progress," he said. "We will continue to work in order to expand the improvements made in Hong Kong."

Organization of American States chief Jose Miguel Insulza Nov. 16 said failure to break the deadlock on farm trade at the WTO's Doha Round would leave Western Hemisphere nations with two options: scrapping the FTAA altogether or negotiating a deal that eliminates farm subsidies among FTAA countries.

The FTAA, proposed by former President George H.W. Bush in 1994, originally set Jan. 1, 2005, as the deadline for completion. But negotiations stalled over Mercosur demands for a better deal on farm trade. In turn, Washington kept demanding more access in the industrial goods, services, financial, and government procurements areas, as well as improved copyright protection.

The Mar del Plata meeting no only failed to break the deadlock--it also created a rift in the region, with Mexican President Vicente Fox proposing to move ahead with FTAA talks leaving behind the five dissidents, which include South America's three largest economies: Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela.