Media Center



March 19, 1998 - Costa Rica

Mr. José Manuel Salazar, Costa Rica's Minister of Trade, Ministers of Trade of the Americas, colleagues from the Tripartite Committee, ladies and gentlemen.

In each of our previous meetings, the coordinator of the Tripartite Committee had the opportunity to make a brief intervention. I continue this tradition today on behalf of my colleagues.

This meeting offers a unique opportunity for reflection. It signifies the closing of the first phase of our efforts to build a Free Trade Area of the Americas, which will offer us a legal and stable framework for expanding trade and promoting investment in the region. The road we traveled from Denver to San José was not always easy, but had the political commitment of the countries, and we have made significant advances. Along the way, the Ministers have provided their guidance, instructions and-even more importantly-their drive and their political support. The method of work used has been extremely useful because it has established objectives and timeframes, which have made it possible to review and periodically assess the process.

The Vice-Ministers have served as the epicenter for the technical decisions that have made possible the work accomplished to date. They have given the Working Groups a very precise agenda, and have overseen the quality of the work performed by both the Working Groups as well as the Tripartite Committee. They will also serve as the center for decisions of a technical nature during the negotiation process, and now have the challenging task and enormous responsibility of guiding the work of the Negotiating Groups during the new phase.

It must also be recognized that all the Working Groups have performed their tasks remarkably. They have contributed to the creation of a common language and unifying technical discussion of the principal issues to be negotiated. They have established databases and inventories, compiled statistics, provided systematic comparisons of the different agreements, and have directed detailed studies on all aspects of policy and trade relations.

The Working Groups have also helped to identify points of convergence and divergence in the different components of negotiation. As a result they have ensured both greater transparency in the operation of the diverse for trade and investment regimes in the different countries, and a thorough understanding of these different regimes as a first step towards initiating negotiations.

Throughout the preparatory phase, the FTAA process has had the support of the institutions making up the Tripartite Committee --- the OAS, IDB, and ECLAC. Acting through consensus, the three institutions have been able to mobilize a considerable amount of human and financial resources in the most efficient way possible. From Miami we have worked with special care to provide technical support when requested to the Chairs of the Working Groups, to the Working Groups themselves, and to the Vice-Ministers. In addition, officials from our organizations have worked side by side with national representatives to build the foundations of mutual understanding and to provide information necessary to making critical decisions. As governments make the decisions that will be the basis for their future work, we in multilateral institutions are working to secure the mandates, resources, and structures needed to serve the process in a way that is both economical and effective.

The Tripartite Committee has worked to increase public understanding of the FTAA process. We have distributed an unprecedented volume of reliable information to the public. In addition, the process has enhanced its public scope through growing interaction with the private sector, through authorization to publish a number of inventories and reports, and through your approval for maintaining a site on the World Wide Web, which has been the official FTAA page.

During this time we have witnessed an expansion of the functions and responsibilities of the Tripartite Committee. Between Miami and San José, the requirements placed on the three institutions have evolved and grown. No doubt there will be new demands corresponding to the needs of the process as it enters the new phase we are about to begin. We can mention, for example, that the Tripartite Committee will participate in the garnering of resources and the legal framework for creating the FTAA Administrative Secretariat. Our support for the Negotiating Groups will also likely continue as they prepare to begin their work.

When negotiations begin, countries and groups of countries will identify their needs for technical cooperation. For many of the countries represented here, the negotiation of FTAA will be an extremely difficult task. In some cases, the Ministers in charge of trade will not have sufficient human and financial resources or sufficient practice in carrying out complex commercial negotiations, especially considering that the negotiations will include countries with a broader experience in global negotiations. And we have not mentioned that, even before the negotiations begin, some governments will need technical cooperation to meet their Uruguay Round commitments.

This explains the fundamental importance of technical cooperation that can be developed for preparing and training negotiators, accessing information, and strengthening institutions, especially on behalf of the smaller economies. This is also why the Tripartite Committee has worked hard to respond favorably to requests from countries or groups of countries requiring various forms of technical cooperation in order to meet their responsibilities in FTAA negotiations.

The will and interest of the Tripartite Committee institutions in continuing to provide this support will be strengthened in the next phase of the process. In reality, I can give you my assurance and that of my colleagues at IDB and ECLAC that we will intensify our individual and collective efforts in regard to both logistical and substantive support. We are examining new modalities of cooperation in each of our institutions. We are also defining suitable mechanisms for the funding and establishment of the Administrative Secretariat of the FTAA process.

From a certain point of view, all these efforts could seem insufficient. The need for resources is constantly growing and the capacity to satisfy this need often seems to be shrinking. The IDB is in the process of initiating a project to create a special window of reimbursable technical cooperation for institution strengthening; in the OAS we have approved significant projects within the framework of the CIDI, our agency for technical cooperation; and ECLAC has acted as the executing agency in some projects. This is why it is increasingly important that our governments, in the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, as well as in the Treasury and Finance Ministries and Secretariats, understand the transcendence of this vital enterprise for the future of the Hemisphere, and that they assist our directing agencies in mobilizing or reallocating sufficient resources for its successful culmination.

Undoubtedly, the most transcendental decision you, the Ministers, have to take is your recommendation to the Presidents and Prime Ministers when they meet next month in Santiago, to proceed with the official launching of negotiations for creating a Free Trade Area of the Americas. This recommendation sends a very eloquent signal of collective commitment toward integration that opens up extraordinary opportunities in the area of commerce and investment. It will fall to our leaders to assess the process from a political point of view and examine as a whole the proposals that must lead to the strengthening of our democracies and systems of human rights protection, the search for sustainable development, and the fight against poverty and discrimination.

A positive note with which I would like to conclude my message is to recall that the energies that have unfolded between Miami and San José have already generated a series of important results. What was a hope or a dream for a Hemisphere free of tariffs and other barriers to the trade of goods and services and investment, is now a much closer reality than could have been predicted by the most optimistic observers. As Enrique Iglesias said last year, the preparatory stage of the process has gone much farther than the comparable stage in the Uruguay Round. During this short period of time we have seen the benefits of greater expansion of trade resulting from current trade and integration agreements. We have witnessed the birth of new agreements designed to bring together, not only geographic neighbors, which are natural trading partners, but also countries that are different and geographically separate. We have understood more deeply the great challenges that face the smaller economies in the region, and we have undertaken an active program of assistance for those countries so that they can make full use of the benefits of integration.

Outside the strict confines of the FTAA process itself; we have seen the involvement of our respective private sectors, which have taken advantage of innumerable opportunities to forge their own alliances and commercial relations. The members of our countries' non-governmental organizations have increased their communication and have opened important channels of dialogue that have overcome language and cultural barriers. As information technology is modernized, the desire for information about and among our peoples will also continue to grow. And it is only through information that we will conquer the fear and ignorance that sometimes keep us from advancing quickly on our course.

So, ladies and gentlemen, Ministers and government officials, what we have ahead of us in San José is an opportunity of utmost importance. We congratulate all of you who have worked so hard and so long to arrive at this moment, and we are sure you are equal to the enormous responsibility that has been entrusted to you.