Hundreds of delegates tackle US-Chile trade pact at UM session
With attuned negotiating tactics, about 170 Chilean and US delegates are at the University of Miami this week holding the ninth round of bargaining for a free-trade agreement between the two countries.
A bilateral agreement would reduce trade barriers between the nations. US exports to Chile were $3.5 billion last year while imports from Chile totaled $3.2 billion, according to the Chilean American Chamber of Commerce.
The US as a whole last year was Chile's top trading partner. Seventeen percent of all Chilean exports headed to the US, according to the chamber, and 20% of that country's imports came from the States.
The presidents of Chile and the US agreed early this year to complete negotiations by December. Since then, high-ranking officials have met almost monthly. Miami was home to the third round of negotiations in late March. Other meetings took place in Santiago, Chile; Fairfax, VA, and Washington, DC.
Shanker Singham, chairman of the international trade group with Steel Hector & Davis law firm, said that while the accord was expected to be signed by the end of the year, it now seemed the process could extend into early 2002.
Negotiations to create the bilateral treaty were launched in December 2000, in the last days of the Clinton Administration, he said.
The decision came more than six years after Chile was invited to be part of the 1994 North America Trade Agreement with Canada, Mexico and the US.
Although Chile did not join NAFTA, the US effort to seal a bilateral deal picked up steam last year.
"It is likely this one will pull through," Mr. Singham said, referring to the US-Chile accord.
Mr. Singham said issues that still need to be settled include US subsidies to agricultural products, intellectual property rights and anti-dumping regulations, which prevent other countries from flooding the market with products cheaper than those produced in the US.
And recently, Mr. Singham said, there has been a dispute between the two nations about the amount of Chilean salmon entering the US.
Chile also argues for dealing with labor and environmental issues in separate side agreements, experts said.
Because this treaty only involves one other nation, the US Congress is likely to pass it with no objections once delegates agree on a document, Mr. Singham said.
"It is easier for Congress to stomach it," he said. "It only involves Chile. Congress can discuss it very easily."
The Florida Free Trade Area of the Americas is sponsoring the six-day, closed-door event, which began Tuesday and continues to Dec. 4, said Ines Calderon, executive director of the non-profit group that is based in Coral Gables. International trade is the second-largest industry in the state after tourism, she said.
Florida Secretary of State Katherine Harris, chairwoman of the organization, arranged for University of Miami's School of Business to host the talks in the new James W. McLamore Executive Education Center, Ms. Calderon said. Florida FTAA, a group created to promote free trade, is paying for the event, but Ms. Calderon said she could not say how much it would cost.