Downtown Miami to become hub for Western Hemisphere's free trade meetings
By Susan Stabley
The settings for a major trade meeting in November are set, with the Eighth Americas Business Forum coming to the downtown Hyatt Regency Miami and the related Free Trade Area of the Americas ministerial meeting at the nearby Inter-Continental Miami.
The business forum will run three days during the week of Nov. 17 while negotiations for the FTAA will be held Nov. 20 and 21.
The Americas Business Forum has been meeting since 1995 as a way for business groups to offer recommendations to trade ministers on topics such as market access, government procurement, agriculture and intellectual property rights.
The forum is tied to the ministerial meetings that are part of ongoing negotiations of the Free Trade Area of the Americas, by bringing together the trade ministers of each of 34 participating countries in discussions to decrease tariff barriers and open market access.
Working sessions with heads of the nine negotiating teams and three special committees were held last week, said Luis Lauredo, executive director of both events and former ambassador to the Organization of American States. Mr. Lauredo was the organizer of the 1994 Summit of the Americas in Miami, where the idea for a Free Trade Area of the Americas was initiated.
The 612-room Hyatt Regency Miami is part of the James L. Knight International Center at 400 SE Second Ave. The 641-room Inter-Continental Miami is at 100 Chopin Plaza, a few blocks away.
Security will be a high priority for organizers and city and county officials. More than 5,000 people are expected to be involved in the meetings during the week, not counting any who come to oppose creating the free trade area.
Terms of the Free Trade Area of the Americas treaty, set to eliminate quotas and tariffs, are still being negotiated. The agreement would need to be signed by the 34 Western Hemisphere nations from Canada to Argentina, with the exception of Cuba, by late 2005.
Anti-globalization groups are already planning to protest the meeting in similar fashion to rallies held at outside G8 summits and meetings of the World Trade Organization, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.
If passed, the FTAA will increase political, economic and cultural connections between Florida, the US and the entire Western Hemisphere, opening up the largest free trade area in the world with a total gross domestic product of more than $14 trillion and 800 million consumers, according to Gov. Jeb Bush's office.
The November events will showcase Miami, which is vying to serve as permanent home to the FTAA secretariat. Other cities competing for the headquarters are Atlanta; Puebla, Mexico; Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago; and Panama City, Panama.
Those pushing for the Miami site hope the area's economic, cultural, historical and political links to Latin America and the Caribbean will bolster its chances.
In other FTAA developments, the Dow Jones Newswire reports that a group of negotiators for the FTAA will meet this month in Puebla. The central Mexican city is the interim home to the FTAA until December 2004.
Also, US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick announced the new position of senior negotiator for the FTAA, who will be US Ambassador to Azerbaijan Ross Wilson. He is to begin the job June 23.