Private sector leaders to push regional trade and commerce at Summit of Americas
By Shearon Roberts
Many in Miami's international business community say they hope to advance free trade talks through private sector forums taking place during next week's fifth Summit of the Americas.
Trade will not be a talking point for leaders attending the summit in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, from April 17 to 19.
Opposition by Latin American governments to US-backed Free Trade Area of the Americas negotiations stalled trade talks at the fourth Summit of the Americas in Mar del Plata, Argentina, in 2005.
Nonetheless, trade remains the single most important issue for the region, observers say. Private sector leaders say they plan to push forward regional trade and commerce with or without consensus from leaders.
"US private sector interest in the summit is strong," said Jose Perez-Jones, senior vice president for Seaboard Marine in Miami. "The private sector can be the driving force in moving many of these negotiations along."
Mr. Perez-Jones told Trinidad and Tobago Ambassador to the US Glenda Morean-Phillip that he plans to attend the summit in Trinidad to participate in the private sector forums as a representative for Seaboard.
Ambassador Morean-Phillip delivered a speech on the summit and talked with members of Miami's international business and diplomatic community at a March 31 summit forum at the Hyatt Regency Coral Gables. The University of Miami's Center for Hemispheric Policy organized the event.
Mr. Perez-Jones added that the summit is a means for the private sector to do regional business. The summit visit would also give the cargo company an opportunity to look into ways of growing its operations throughout the Caribbean basin.
Outside private sector summit discussions, any trade talks will be brought up in terms of easing the global economic crisis, said Brian Dean, president of Gateway Florida Inc, the state public-private agency set up to advocate regional trade.
"There's been a deliberate effort to keep the specific issue of trade to a government-to-government agenda," Mr. Dean said.
Gateway Florida was set up as an advocacy for the concept of the stalled Free Trade Area of the Americas, created during the first summit held in Miami in November 1994.
The FTAA would have set up a 34-nation free trade zone under one regional free trade agreement. However, large anti-globalization protests at the last summit, plus disagreements by Brazil and Argentina over US refusal to limit its agricultural subsidies, caused the summit's original goal for regional job growth to collapse. In the end, the fourth summit failed to reach any trade agreement, Mr. Dean said.
"There is a desire on the part of the diplomatic and business community to see how the Obama administration will present the US agenda for this region," he said. So far, the president has stipulated that trade negotiations must ensure that labor and environmental standards are met, Mr. Dean said.
"Given the summit's themes of human prosperity and environmental sustainability, we can expect the president to put any trade talks in this context," he said.
Bringing Latin America, the Caribbean and North America together on any other item that marginally involves trade always leads to ineffective summit talks, said Luiz de Araujo Castro, consul general for Brazil in Miami.
"I am cautious about how much consensus or agreement can be reached among the leaders about any issue after the summit is over," said Mr. Castro, who attended the summit forum.
Ambassador Morean-Phillip of Trinidad and Tobago told the gathering that the host country presents a useful example that growing trade and international business can bring tremendous economic growth at the same time.
Trinidad holds a balance of trade with the US, is the leading supplier of liquefied natural gas to the US, and is a strong ally in US counter-narcotic and other security efforts in the region, she said.
Having a country that is a regional leader, with solid US ties, as host for the fifth summit, she said, can help bring about a different atmosphere for summit negotiations this time around.
"The hosting of the fifth Summit of the Americas is a strategic effort to move Trinidad and Tobago and the CARICOM [Caribbean Community] nations from the global periphery and to position ourselves for the shaping of a more inclusive region," Ambassador Morean-Phillip said.
"While there will be differences," she said, "we tend to work together when there is a need for a regional effort to move an issue forward that affects us all."