Archive for Monday, April 23, 2001

Summit concludes with pact signing

Bush adds name to free-trade accord, expects ‘challenges’

April 23, 2001


— Leaders of 34 Western Hemisphere nations both rich and poor agreed Sunday to stick with an ambitious plan to create the world's largest free-trade zone by 2005 and penalize any country that strays from the path of democracy.

Stepping up to a table in pairs to sign the accord, the leaders left many differences unresolved as they concluded a three-day summit that was marred by protests, both peaceful and violent. President Bush headed home from his first international conference to face a tough battle in winning negotiating authority from Congress to complete the deal.

"There is no question in my mind that we have challenges ahead. Also, there is no question that we can meet those challenges," Bush said after scrawling his name on the agreement to create a Free Trade Area of the Americas encompassing 800 million people.

In scattered incidents of violence, anti-trade demonstrators lighted bonfires and smashed windows in an area along the St. Lawrence River. But streets were mostly quiet on a rainy Sunday, without the angry clashes between police and some demonstrators that had marked the first two days of the session. Since the summit opened Friday, more than 400 protesters were arrested, and at least 46 police officers and 57 demonstrators were injured.

The duty-free hemispheric zone stretching from the Arctic to the tip of South America had been embraced at earlier summits in 1994 and 1998 but had lost momentum in recent years. In staying with the 2005 target, the leaders rejected calls to speed up or slow down the completion date. Venezuela signed the accord despite reservations about the timing and a provision called the "democracy clause."

All leaders of the hemisphere were present except for Cuba's Fidel Castro, who was excluded. The summit partners added the democracy clause that could strip a country of membership if it ceased to be a democracy, as in a military coup. The leaders said that any disruption in the democratic order of any country was "an insurmountable obstacle" to membership in the hemispheric trade club.

Noting that "democracy in certain countries continues to be fragile," summit host Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien had words of caution for Haiti for its flawed election last year.

He called on Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide to live up to promises he made to advance democracy and announced that the secretary general of the Organization of American States would go to Haiti to observe whether such steps were being taken.

Aristide, who became Haiti's first freely elected president in 1990, fell to a military coup and was restored to power in a 1994 U.S. invasion. He stepped down in 1996 and became president again last year in elections boycotted by the opposition because of a fraudulent legislative vote.

Aristide pledged cooperation Sunday, but gave no indication of how he plans to address demands for new elections. "I am confident that we will come out with a quick resolution to the crisis in the next few days, thanks to the help of the Organization of American States," Aristide said.

The overall trade agreement sets a target of January 2005 for completing negotiations among the nations of North, South and Central America. The pact is to take effect by the end of that year.

"We must meet the challenges inherent in the differences in size and levels of social, economic and institutional development in our countries and our region," the accord states.

The leaders also promised to work together to expand the war on drugs, improve election practices, fight government corruption, strengthen human rights, and improve education and health care.

Congress is deeply divided over whether to renew presidential negotiating authority that Bush needs to complete the deal. It enables the president to submit trade agreements to Congress which can be voted up or down, but not amended.

Bush promised a redoubled effort to "to get it myself" by the end of the year. "It's in our nation's best interests to have the president have that authority."

Still yet to be resolved are demands by Brazil and others that the United States dismantle various agricultural subsidies and anti-dumping laws. Another contentious issue is whether labor and environmental provisions should be enforced by sanctions, as Democrats in Congress are demanding.

Mexican President Vicente Fox called the summit "a great step for the entire hemisphere" and said they had taken negotiations from behind "dark rooms behind doors" and made them more open.

Bush expressed solidarity with Colombia's struggle against cocaine producers, noting that the United States is spending $1.3 billion for the battle and that he had recently asked Congress for another $882 million for Colombia and six other nations in the region.

He said Colombian President Andres Pastrana was a strong leader. "It's going to be up to President Pastrana to make the peace," Bush said. "Once he does, we'll stand by his side."

Pastrana renewed a push for the United States to drop tariffs on textiles from Andean nations, saying, "more than money, we're asking commerce."

Asked whether the United States could look to Canada and Mexico to help ease its energy crisis, Bush said, "Canadian suppliers and Mexican suppliers are looking for a market. They found one in the United States."

Chretien said, "We are a great exporter of oil to the United States and it will increase even more in the years to come."

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