Miami lands initial round of Chile-US trade talks
By Paola Iuspa
Miami will host a first round of talks March 26-30 that could lead to a free trade agreement between the US and Chile.
Representatives of both nations meeting in Chile about a month ago decided to hold the round in Miami, says Carlos Ducci, Chile's consul general here, when 14 commissions will negotiate matters such as agriculture, intellectual rights, environment and e-commerce.
"US officials had showed an interest in Chile since 1994, when we had the summit of the Americas here," Mr. Ducci said. "When the US signed the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada, Chile was invited to join. Chile accepted but never got the American government's fast track" approval.
In a fast-track procedure, Congress would authorize the president to execute and approve negotiations. Without a fast track, representatives of both nations must review, change or add to agreements hammered out in trade talks each time Congress changes a provision.
South Floridians cheering for Miami to become permanent home of the Free Trade Area of the Americas Secretariat in 2005 welcomed the talks, to be held on the campus of the University of Miami.
The Free Trade Area of the Americas proposal is being drafted by representatives of 34 Western Hemisphere nations, including Canada and the US, to promote free trade. The pact is being worked out with a self-imposed deadline of 2005.
"From the standpoint of our community this event reinforces Miami as a meeting ground for the Americas and reinforces our role as a go-between for cities in the north and Latin America," said Many Mencia, senior vice president of international trade and business development with Enterprise Florida, the state's economic development organization.
"We are glad Florida is offering the facilities to hold the talks," said Hugh Simon, Florida's under-secretary of state for international affairs.
Maria Camila Leiva, executive vice president of the Miami Free Zone, said US-Chile negotiations are not tied to the Free Trade Area of the Americas negotiations, which are under way.
Chile is a key market for the US, Ms. Leiva said. "Chile now buys auto parts from Brazil," she said. "Once a US and Chile agreement is secured, customer taxes would be reduced and the auto parts would cost Chile about the same as buying them from Brazil."
Carl Cira, heading the Summit of the Americas Center at Florida International University, said trade talks at this level usually occur behind closed doors. He said this step showed the powers that be in Washington support free trade talks.
"It shows the new US administrator is interested in developing bilateral trade agreements," Mr. Cira said.
Holding talks here would sustain momentum and position Miami as a neutral ground for future talks, said Tony Villamil, co-chair of an FTAA committee for the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce and chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors for Gov. Jeb Bush a volunteer post.
"It's like the bicycle theory," Mr. Villamil said. "You have to continue pedaling or you fall off the bicycle. By hosting trade talks we continue moving and pedaling toward reaching an FTAA agreement."