FTAA talks end early as protesters battle police

Trade watchers believe that a major goal of the United States in Miami was to avoid the embarrassment of having trade talks collapse, as negotiations did in Cancun in September — or in Seattle in 1999.

The Globe and Mail
November 21, 2003

FTAA talks end early as protesters battle police
Negotiations peter out after trade ministers reach watered-down deal
Steven Chase

MIAMI — Talks to create a Free Trade Area of the Americas ended one day early in Miami as late-afternoon clashes between anti-globalization protesters and thousands of riot police escalated into street-by-street battles outside the meeting.

Negotiations petered out because trade ministers from 34 Western Hemisphere countries ran out of things to discuss after agreeing to a watered-down "FTAA lite" deal in the face of stubborn protectionist sentiment that hindered a more sweeping approach to talks.

The end of talks — which will resume at the bureaucratic level in February — came as battles between protesters and police escalated in downtown Miami, filling the air with rubber bullets, rocks, stink bombs and percussion grenades.

Riot police wielding batons, tear gas and plastic shields ordered thousands of demonstrators off the streets and drove hundreds more out of Miami's downtown core, taking dozens into custody in a move that was expected to lead to mass arrests.

The late-day battle overshadowed an earlier peaceful demonstration of thousands of unionized workers and anti-globalization protesters. It was sparked after a smaller group of violent protesters started throwing rocks and smoke bombs at some of the estimated 8,000 police guarding the talks.

Canadian Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew said he was unfazed by the protests because he couldn't see or hear them from inside the heavily fortified Intercontinental Hotel where talks were taking place.

"We don't sense their presence at all," Mr. Pettigrew said of the protesters.

Trade ministers were initially reluctant to conclude last night because it would give the impression that they were running from protesters.

But they felt they had gone as far as they could in talks that were handicapped by an unwillingness on the part of the United States and Brazil for deeper free trade.

"The work was done on the basis of the inflexibility of these two biggest players. There was little scope for change and not as much as usual to discuss," said Ottawa trade consultant Peter Clark.

"When you have an answer you can live with you should avoid further debate which could undo it."

FTAA ministers issued a declaration to create a free-trade region stretching from Canada to Argentina that will allow member countries to take a buffet-style approach to commitments, accepting some and letting them opt out of parts they don't like.

The move to a lowest-common denominator "FTAA lite" deal, orchestrated by Washington and Brasilia, reflects gaping disagreements between the two economic titans of the Western Hemisphere over how far negotiations should go in dismantling trade barriers.

It would fall grievously short of the sweeping and comprehensive "NAFTA on steroids" goal envisaged in 1994, when preparatory FTAA negotiations began among all countries in the Western Hemisphere except Cuba.

Trade watchers believe that a major goal of the United States in Miami was to avoid the embarrassment of having trade talks collapse, as negotiations did in Cancun in September — or in Seattle in 1999.

Annette Hester, director of the University of Calgary's Latin American Research Centre, said the FTAA decision in Miami allows Brazil to refrain from offering concessions to Canada and the United States, including more protection for foreign investors, and access to the lucrative services and government procurement businesses.


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