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April 7, 1998

With the movement towards a free trade area embracing all the states of the Western Hemisphere, special mechanisms for smaller economies are to be taken up as an important issue at the two-day Second Summit of the Americas that opens in Santiago, Chile April 18.

That is one of the principles on which negotiations on the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) is based, asserted Chile's ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), Carlos Portales Cifuentes.

To that end, he announced that the region's trade ministers had agreed on a special committee to be part of the Summit, to focus on the situation of smaller economies. Jamaica is to chair that committee, with Guatemala as vice chair.

Briefing members of the press on preparations for the hemispheric Summit, Ambassador Portales Cifuentes said the negotiations would shape that regime, as decided by the hemisphere's heads of state and government, and would determine the specifics elements. The working breakfast meeting with the press was held at the OAS headquarters in Washington on Tuesday.

Smaller countries, in particular those of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) grouping, have been leading the call for provisions that would enable them to benefit from participation in the proposed hemisphere-wide free trade which is to come into being by 2005. There should be a system that takes into account different realities of the smaller countries, the Chilean envoy stressed.

He said the summit his country is hosting would be different from the first one that was held in Miami, Florida, in December 1994. The process in Santiago is a consensus-based one where all the 34 active OAS member countries help fashion the agenda, whereas the Miami summit was called at the invitation of the United States government. "Miami was a starting point. Santiago is the institutionalization of a process, and the process will continue."

Poverty eradication and discrimination underscore the importance of the social element for the Summit, and are among the four major topics the ambassador said would be up for discussion among the states' leaders. Public policy must deal with poverty and this also calls for international cooperation, Ambassador Portales Cifuentes said.

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