Preliminary talks to conclude a Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, or FTAA, by December 2005, began this week in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago's capital city
First contacts made clear that negotiations would be as tough as the last ones in Cancun, when World Trade Organization members failed to reach a common position over agricultural subsidies.
Port-of-Spain's summit has been called to arrange November Miami's conference, where a new road map to the final phase of the FTAA is expected to be discussed. There, Brazil and the US have opposite views: while Washington tries to speed up talks, Brazil looks for more time to ultimate its leadership in South America.
Recently, Brazil president Lula Da Silva's advisor Marco Aurelio Garcia told the press in Buenos Aires that the whole of South America will be economically integrated by the end of the year. In September, Peru became a Mercosur-associated member and it is expected that formal negotiations with Venezuela and Colombia will start soon. Mercosur trade block joins Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay, as well as Chile and Bolivia as associated members.
The United States, in turn, has already signed a Free Trade Agreement with Chile and looks for similar deals to include Central American nations in NAFTA. This is why Brazil is focusing only on South America, as it considers Mexico and Central America out of its game.
Analysts believe that regional trade talks have been on a bumpy course for over a year, and have been talking about a scaled-back FTAA for months. In turn, the Bush administration has taken a much frostier attitude towards Brazil's activist approach, which departs sharply from Washington's comprehensive and ambitious trade agenda.
Brazil's diplomats say that the US agenda is too crowded and ambitious. Actually, they want to delay talks until agreements with the outstanding nations are finished. This is something feasible but unpredictable, as long as there is not a clear timetable to reach such goals. In the meantime, it became known that Brazil has taken advantage of its leadership at WTO talks against agricultural subsidies in USA and the European Union to push forward free trade agreements with China, India and eventually Russia.
Washington has said it cannot negotiate Brazil's key demand - lowering U.S. agricultural subsidies - in regional talks. Observers say such unilateral reduction would allow European countries and Japan to retain their own subsidies.
Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim, who leads his country's trade negotiations, has voiced his support for the FTAA but insisted that it be limited. "It has a good chance of success if we are pragmatic," Amorim told The Herald in Cancъn. "If we overload it, as we overloaded the WTO, then we may have some difficulties".