Latin Reporters, Mexico / Bruxelles, le 26 mai 2004 - 2004/05/26
Fifty-eight heads of state and government from the European Union and the 33 LAC countries meet on May 28 and 29, 2004 in Guadalajara, Mexico, to discuss free trade: “The dream of a ‘strategic biregional association’ that has underpinned these summits since 1999 is also political, social, and cultural,” reports Latin Reports, which notes that the failure of the fifth WTO ministerial conference and the uncertainty surrounding the future of the U.S.-backed FTAA have spurred Brussels and Washington to renew their efforts to conclude bilateral and subregional trade deals in Latin America.
EU trade commissioner Pascal Lamy anticipates that the Guadalajara summit should finally get EU’s deal with MERCOSUR, the Latin American common market, on track. The EU has been in talks with MERCOSUR (Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay) since 1999. The Summit could end with a commitment to finalize EU-MERCOSUR negotiations by October. The key to success will be reducing European agricultural protectionism and securing greater openness on the part of MERCOSUR to European industrial products and services, and certain investments. The EU already has free trade deals with Mexico (2000) and Chile (2002). The Europeans are also expected to make it clear to the Andean Community (Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia) and the Central American nations that greater regional integration on their part will improve their prospects for trade talks with the EU. The EU is also in the midst of negotiating an economic cooperation agreement with 15 Caribbean countries. The European Union is the LAC countries’ second largest trading partner after the U.S., but first for MERCOSUR and Chile. The possibility of an EU-Latin American free trade zone by 2010 is plausible, given that by then, trade liberalization with Mexico and Chile will be complete, and highly advanced with MERCOSUR
As for the United States, it signed free trade deals in 1994 with Canada and Mexico, and with Chile in 2003. It is currently negotiating an agreement with five Central American countries and the Dominican Republic, with Panama also likely to sign on. Washington has also announced the debut of free trade talks with Colombia, Peru, and Ecuador by summer. Bolivia is expected to join negotiations later. U.S. trade representative Robert Zoellick believes that by 2005, the U.S. will have free trade arrangements with two-thirds of the countries in the Western Hemisphere. Through this strategy, Washington hopes to do an end run around Brazil, Argentina, and Venezuela regarding their reservations about the FTAA. Politically, most Latin American countries are counting on closer ties with Europe to limit American hegemony. (Available in French)