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Chances for FTAA appear 'on life support'

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Chances for FTAA appear 'on life support'

Susan Stabley

Major trade pacts between the United States and Latin America have lost traction and may be in peril.

Time's up for the Free Trade Area of the Americas, said Tony Villamil, CEO of the Washington Economics Group in Coral Gables and vice chairman of Florida FTAA, the non-profit group behind Miami's bid for the trade pact's administrative headquarters.

A Jan. 1 deadline is looming for an agreement that could create the largest trading block on the planet, affecting 800 million consumers from Canada to Chile.

The proposed FTAA pact among all 34 nations in the Western Hemisphere - except Cuba - has made little progress.

Trade ministers met in Miami last November and "disagreements became apparent," Villamil told an audience of local and foreign attorneys participating at a legal summit hosted by the law firm Morgan Lewis, the South Florida Group of Regional Counsel and the University of Miami School of Law.

The pact's purpose goes beyond market access, Villamil said, and tackles intellectual property, one of the issues hashed out by attorneys out at the hemispheric summit.

Four days later, Dominican Republic president Leonel Fernandez announced his nation's support of Miami as the permanent headquarters of the FTAA to a luncheon filled with hundreds of South Florida's leading business power brokers at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables. The Dominican Republic is the sixth nation to endorse Miami as the site, joining Uruguay, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Costa Rica.

After the luncheon, Florida International University's Summit of the Americas Center Director Carl Cira offered little optimism on the pact: "I don't want to say it's dead, but it's on life support at this point."

But President Fernandez's declaration keeps attention on the FTAA pact, said Jorge Arrizurieta, executive director and chief operating officer of Florida FTAA.

President George W. Bush has been a strong supporter of the FTAA pact. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry stated on his Web site that he wants labor and environmental protections in the FTAA deal and in a renegotiation of the Central American Free Trade pact.

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