US Trade Representative office warned that it must be better prepared for November trade meetings
By Susan Stabley
The US General Accounting Office warns that the Office of the US Trade Representative must get better prepared for November's free trade meetings in Miami or possibly face a repeat of 1999's violence in Seattle.
The trade office has "limited experience in planning and providing logistics for such a meeting," the General Accounting Office said in a May 13 report. It cited "failure to link security, funding and logistics" as a major reason that protesters caused major disruptions during Seattle's World Trade Organization.
Miami this fall is hosting the Americas Business Forum and related meetings, a key step toward creation of the Free Trade Area of the Americas. Trade ministers from the 34 countries in the Western Hemisphere - except Cuba - are expected to attend.
The free trade agreement has been under negotiation since 1998 as a way to eliminate tariffs and create common trade and investment rules.
The Office of the US Trade Representative expects 6,000 participants at the meetings, which the US will co-chair with Brazil.
Other Washington, DC agencies are offering little support and no federal money has been budgeted for the November event, which the General Accounting Office expects to cost $10 million.
Miami organizers estimate expenses at more than $11 million, with more than half for security.
The trade representative's office and Miami organizers expect 20,000 to 100,000 demonstrators, according to the accounting office's report.
The 1999 World Trade Organization ministerial in Seattle was the most recent major meeting the trade representative's office planned. That event drew with 9,000 participants and 50,000 protesters, who "threatened and, in some cases, assaulted delegates," the General Accounting Office report says.
"Failure to link security, funding and logistics at a prior ministerial caused serious problems for the organizers of that event," the report says. Damage to downtown Seattle businesses cost $3 million, and 92 protesters and bystanders and 56 police were injured, the General Accounting Office said.
The office also said the Seattle meetings were severely under-budgeted at $9 million. Costs skyrocketed to $24 million, nearly as large as the trade representative's 2001 budget of $29 million.
The trade representative's office has requested only $200,000 for the Miami meetings, the accounting office reported.
"Substantial help" was given to the trade representative's office for the Seattle meetings - including assistance from the Department of State, according to the accounting office.
Because of budgetary limits, the Department of State is not involved in the Miami ministerial. Instead, the trade representative's office must lean on Miami "expertise," the report said.
Most of the up-front costs for the upcoming meetings have been met by Miami-Dade County and the City of Miami, said Luis Lauredo, executive director of the team organizing the event. Miami Beach and Coral Gables have promised support, and organizers are trying to get funds from Congress and the Florida Legislature.
Mr. Lauredo said Miami organizers will also seek assistance from the Department of Commerce. The General Accounting Office report recommended that the Department of State send a full-time staffer to help.
A budget for the meetings that defines funding sources, configurations for meeting spaces and arrangements for providing credentials, translation and other support should be set before September, the General Accounting Office said. A security plan should be in place by the end of this month, the report suggested.
The report said the current trade area agreement goals are "ambitious" and "require serious, substantive trade-offs."
The agreement is expected to be complete in January 2005.
Mr. Lauredo, a former US ambassador to the Organization of American States, organized the 1994 Summit of the Americas that drew the leaders of the 34 countries and sparked the idea for the FTAA. He said he's seen drafts of the General Accounting Office report and has met with federal officials. "Clearly, they do not have any criticism of us," he said.
Mr. Lauredo defended the trade representative's office and its leader, Robert Zoellick. "They have been very hands-on," he said. "I have direct access to Ambassador Zoellick on very short notice."
Pamella Dana, director of the state's economic development office, said trade office officials are not "micro-managing" preparations for the meetings. "When we took it on, we agreed as a state that we wanted it," she said. "We'll work to get what resources are needed to carry this out."
Miami is in contention to be host of FTAA headquarters. Other sites in contention are Atlanta; Puebla, Mexico; the Port of Spain; Trinidad and Tobago; and Panama City, Panama.
"All roads lead to the Miami effort," said Mr. Lauredo. "If we do a good job, it enhances our chance. If we don't, we have no chance."