Media Center



November 4, 1999 - Toronto, Canada

As Secretary General of the OAS, which at this time is serving as coordinator for the Tripartite Committee, which is made up of the OAS, the IDB and ECLAC, I am pleased to address you and to offer you a few brief thoughts about the road that we have covered to date in building the Free Trade Area of the Americas, and about the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead.

This is the first ministerial meeting since negotiations began, and I think it appropriate to begin by recalling what we achieved at our successful ministerial meeting in San Jose, the recommendations from which were adopted by our Heads of State and Government at the Summit of the Americas in Santiago as the basis for launching those negotiations.

In the Ministerial Declaration of San Jose, you managed to express in concrete results the fruits of three years of hard preparatory work. A tremendous degree of political will was evident in the agreements regarding the route that we must follow, on the objectives and principles of the negotiations, on the areas of trade discipline to be included, on the sites and sub-sites for the negotiations, on selecting chairs for the many meetings that will take place throughout the process until its conclusion, and on the technical and administrative support required. Those decisions reflect a fine sense of balance among all the subregional groups, and this in turn will facilitate negotiations and avoid unnecessary delays and detours in the very difficult discussions that await us. I believe that all of us who had the opportunity to attend the San Jose and Santiago meetings came away from them with a feeling of great optimism and achievement, and a conviction that we are making real progress in the right direction.

Since Santiago, the process has moved much further ahead that we might have expected, given the particularly difficult timing.

I do not want to dwell here on the volatility of capital movements, financial contagion, low commodity prices, or the recessions that have afflicted our countries in recent months. I do want to say, however, and unequivocally, that governments have reacted to these promptly and firmly, and that we have emerged from each crisis strengthened, better prepared, with better instruments and sounder institutions, and without resorting to protectionism in the face of our difficulties.

In this new phase, the Trade Negotiations Committee, made up of vice ministers, has established a working framework for the Negotiating Groups and has kept the process on track and moving forward. In the last year, some 900 negotiators from 34 countries have been meeting in Miami. They have made significant progress in identifying approaches and methodologies to negotiations in each of the areas, and have begun to draft a possible text for the chapters of an eventual FTAA agreement.

To these significant achievements we may add the fact that the Trade Negotiations Committee has been able to negotiate a set of business facilitation measures for consideration at this meeting. Those measures are, in fact, the best way of telling the business communities in all of our countries that you are listening to their message and their proposals, and that there will be concrete and tangible benefits for them in the areas that successive meetings of the Business Forum have highlighted as priorities.

Turning to the substance of the negotiations, the reports from the various Negotiating Groups and Special Committees are the best proof of the impressive effort and results achieved in this first phase of negotiations. The negotiating groups, for example, are blazing new trails by showing us how to open government procurement to other regional suppliers, how to protect hemispheric investors without being unfair to those from the rest of the world, how to go about increasing and broadening the benefits of electronic commerce for all FTAA participants, or how to move forward together towards eliminating export subsidies for agricultural products.

My dear ministers,

The multilateral institutions that make up the Tripartite Committee - the OAS, the IDB and ECLAC - have provided important logistical and substantive support and have moved to seek the mandates, resources and technical support necessary to serve the process in an economical and efficient manner. An unprecedented volume of reliable information has been made public, and after Toronto we shall be moving further in this direction, with the transparency measures that you are going to adopt.

With your decisions on behalf of transparency, there will be a quantum leap in the content and use of sophisticated information technologies in support of hemispheric integration. The dissemination of databases and the FTAA official web page's cyber links to hundreds of sites for institutions and government agencies, business and trade promotion organizations in all our countries will be of use not only in the negotiations themselves but in fostering greater mutual understanding among the institutions and citizens of the Americas.

Of equal importance is the cooperation and technical assistance that we are developing for training negotiators, providing access to information and strengthening institutions, especially for the smaller economies.

On behalf of my colleagues in the Tripartite Committee, I would like to thank you for your support and the confidence you have shown in our work, and I want to reiterate our willingness to continue supporting this process with analytical input and technical assistance, whenever you so require.

In this brief survey of progress over the last few months, I must point out that both the government and the business community of Canada deserve our appreciation and applause for the extraordinary leadership they have shown in chairing the FTAA over the last 18 months, and in hosting this meeting. We would like to offer to the government of Argentina our full support as they take over the Presidency of the process.

As a final thought, I would like to say that one important challenge for the coming years will be to keep the FTAA negotiations moving forward in tandem with the new Millenium Round in the WTO, and to make sure that these two processes are compatible and complementary and that they can reinforce each other.

My dear ministers,

I am certain that under your leadership and supervision we are going to leave the days of isolationism and confrontation behind us, and we shall strengthen the new spirit that now guides are relations, based on understanding, cooperation, convergence of principles and values, and the conviction that we have a common destiny.

Many thanks