Media Center



December 13, 1994 - Miami, FL

"One factor that stands in the way of integration is the lack of information. We do not yet have up-to-date, easily accessible databases for trade in the Americas. Nor do we have data on tariffs, rebate standards agreed on in various treaties, or established rules of origin. We do not even have information on manufacturers, exporters, importers, and merchants for each country. It is practically the first day of creation. We have to let there be light."

I have been called upon to precede the distinguished ministers and representatives of regional organizations in order to make some comments on hemispheric trade. I would like to thank the organizers for this exceptional opportunity, allowing me to share with you some ideas—one could say intuition—in the interest of stimulating the discussions of the panelists present today.
The countdown to the year 2005 has already begun. By then the Americas will have completed the negotiations shaping a single, tariff-free market for trade and investment. The leaders gathered at the Summit that ended this past Sunday expressed it clearly. They converted their political will not only into principles, but also into a list of specific activities that assigns major responsibilities to the OAS and other entities of the inter-American system.
With a timetable and specific objectives, there is no room for rhetorical speculation. I have not come to this symposium with newfangled academic ideas. Rather, I have in mind the mandates demanding, more than ever, our collective action.
Let me begin by saying that we, in the Americas, have made noteworthy progress in recent years in the areas of economic and trade integration. We might say that the pieces of a puzzle outlining the great hemispheric free trade zone are almost all in place. MERCOSUR, NAFTA, the G-3, the Andean Pact, CARICOM, the Central American Common Market, and, finally, just over two dozen bilateral and multilateral trade agreements have been established.
And now, as in a production line, we must move from manufacturing components—from the parts—to the assembly stage in order to shape the desired whole. That is why the term "convergence" emerges as a key word. Now the minimal objective must be to extend the basic benefits of free trade, and to adopt disciplines with relatively common standards.
The proliferation of trade agreements which I have mentioned has been useful. No one disputes that. But it is no less true that this entails risks, such as trade diversion, discrimination against countries not included in the free-trade agreements, and disincentives to investment that accompany uncertainty. Even more disturbing is the fact that beneficiaries of the current situation may impede the multilateral efforts required to advance forward in the immediate future.
And I believe that at this time there is not much scope for progress in the bilateral sphere. We must make way for a multilateral strategy leading to convergence, since trade, like the environment and the war on organized crime or migration, is no longer a matter that may be handled by a single country or through simple dialogue between two countries.
Such multilateralism can take the form of partial or final accessions to an existing subregional agreement through simple, transparent, and, above all, functional provisions. It can also be achieved through the adoption of a system aimed at generalizing the preferences granted under the various agreements. It can of course consist in the definition of simple liberalization rules that everyone would follow under a so-called "standardization" system.
However, what must be avoided, at all costs, is making the mistake of using any of the existing agreements as the mandatory basis for establishing hemispheric integration. This would entail the risk of stagnation or coming to a standstill because of factors beyond the control of collective action. These factors are obvious, and need not be mentioned here. This would be like putting all of our eggs in one basket.
Moving ahead toward what ECLAC has called "open integration," or in other words, trade in which the rebate measures provided for in the trade agreements cover a good part of the potential trade between the signatory countries, avoiding exceptions as much as possible and including simple accession clauses, could be beneficial.
I would add something basic: the menu of matters to be considered in each agreement must be expanded as much as possible. I am referring to providing measures for such essential aspects as unfair trade practices, the settlement of disputes, export incentives, technical standards, customs transit, safeguards, intellectual and industrial property, government purchases, investment and services, countervailing duties, special treatment for infant in-dustries, agriculture, sanitary and phytosanitary standards, promotion of competition, tele-communications and transportation, and migration, among other topics. At the same time, we must bear in mind the need to harmonize the agreements with the disciplines of GATT.
One factor that stands in the way of integration is the lack of information. This may appear to be false but it is true. We do not yet have up-to-date, easily accessible databases for trade in the Americas, broken down by origin and destination. Nor do we have data on tariffs, rebate standards agreed on in various treaties, or established rules of origin. We do not even have information on manufacturers, exporters, importers, and merchants for each country.
In this regard, it is practically the first day of creation for us. We have to let there be light. Information is the fundamental basis for decision-making. Without high-quality information,it will be difficult to come to a sound decision on a process that cannot be neglected.
The OAS, along with the IDB, ECLAC, SELA, INTAL, and ALADI, among other organizations and systems, will work on designing, coordinating, and implementing a modern trade statistics system.
I have said that almost all the pieces of the ideal hemispheric free-trade system puzzle were virtually in place, basically to emphasize that not all of them were. The wide disparity in the size and per capita income of the economies of the Americas has meant that countries, and even subregions, have been lagging behind in the dynamic movement toward trade liberalization occurring today.
Consequently, our joint efforts must help those countries catch up and must strengthen their technical and negotiating capacity, so that they too may take advantage of the benefits of free trade. To speak metaphorically, if the Americas are the tree and trade the sap flowing through it, we cannot deny essential nutrients to any of the tree’s limbs.
In this connection, the OAS, supported by ECLAC and the IDB, should conduct studies to clarify the nature of the impact on the smallest countries of the Hemisphere of becoming part of large trading blocs with "richer" members, precisely to make innovative progress in defining desirable differential treatments to compensate for inequalities in the relative economic development of those parties.
Obviously, a key aspect of any discussion has to be the handling of non-reciprocal concessions granted under such instruments as the Lomé Convention, the CBI, CARIBCAN, and ATPA. The beneficiary countries have to indicate whether such concessions can reasonably be replaced by accession to a reciprocal type of trade agreement. There are cost-benefit considerations that have to be worked out and certain doubts that still have to be dispelled.
The OAS is prepared to offer countries that so request high-level consulting services aimed at strengthening the technical and negotiating capacity of their civil servants in the areas of international trade to ensure that free trade will result in good business for all countries.
Something important happened last week. The Summit of the Americas prompted us to give serious thought to many topics, all of them essential for our existence and the well-being of our peoples. Of course, trade occupies a special place in our concerns. Receiving a mandate in this area from the Heads of State and Government attaches in and of itself new relevance to the inter-American system and the Organization of American States.
For someone like myself who has governed a country, the additional honor of having been chosen to lead the OAS during this time is an unparalleled challenge. For this challenge to occur at a time when the leaders of the Americas are taking such important, definitive decisions commits and binds us even further and more profoundly.
The Declaration of Principles of the Miami Summit and the Plan of Action embody the dream of those of us who have made a bid for inter-American integration, free trade and cultural exchange, a market economy, government reform, sustainable development, and efforts to combat poverty.
Friends of Caribbean/Latin American Action, Distinguished Panelists, and Friends One and All:
The OAS is prepared to contribute significantly to implementing the new hemispheric agenda drawn up at the Summit. Through its Special Committee on Trade and the establishment of a strong trade unit, our Organization will make its contribution to the task, as defined by the leaders themselves, of "promoting prosperity through economic integration and free trade."
May the vision and the course of action given to us by the Heads of State and Government of the Americas provide the direction for us to find the well-being of our peoples. And let us not allow a single day to pass that does not see our efforts aimed at building the bright future reserved for us by history.