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US-CARICOM Trade Summit Distracted By Gaming Dispute

by Leroy Baker, for, New York

18 October 2006

The first meeting of the revived US-CARICOM Trade and Investment Council in Washington last week was overshadowed by Caribbean concerns about recent US anti-gaming legislation and Antigua's pending WTO case against the US.

Caribbean Net News reports that Assistant Secretary-General Ambassador Irwin La Rocque told a multi-agency US delegation led by Everett Eissenstat, the United States Trade Representative for the Americas, that the region viewed with concern the US’ response to date to the WTO rulings and recommendations in the Internet gaming case involving Antigua and Barbuda, and that the issue should not be regarded as a “bilateral issue”, but as a regional one.

The CARICOM-US Council was established in the early 1990s, with Ambassador Bernal, Jamaica’s Ambassador to the US at the time, serving as lead spokesperson for CARICOM in that forum. "I am pleased at the collective support by our regional representatives on this important issue", said Antigua and Barbuda’s Ministry of Finance and the Economy, Dr Errol Cort, who has responsibility for the WTO proceedings. Ambassador Richard Bernal also urged the US to resolve its WTO Internet gaming case with Antigua and Barbuda.

CARICOM Ministers met last month in the US with Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, and the agenda included a new and improved framework to enhance trade between CARICOM countries and the United States. The Ministers emphasized their support for a trade agreement with the United States and suggested regular meetings between CARICOM and the United States Trade Representative (USTR). Trade policy of the CARICOM countries has been moving steadily away this year from the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and towards a bilateral deal with the US.

Last week's Washington meeting included senior officials of the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR), the US International Trade Commission, USAID, US Department of State, US Trade Development Agency, US Department of Commerce, US Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the Export-Import Bank of the United States, and the US Patent and Trademark Office.

Recent months have seen a number of South American states, influenced by the outright opposition of Venezuela, begin to waver over the proposed FTAA. Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez arrived at the 34-nation Americas summit in Argentina last November promising to 'bury' the idea of a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), although 29 of the nations present wanted to set a date for renewed FTAA negotiations in 2006.

Many of these nations, however, see progress on the FTAA as dependent on a successful outcome to the WTO's Doha Round - something which seems far from certain at this point.

Last June, President George W. Bush said Washington would continue to push for the FTAA, saying that free trade would strengthen democracy in the Americas, and that a pan-American trade pact would unite the region in prosperity and reduce the risk of "false ideologies".

The effort to unite the economies of the Americas into a single free trade area began at the Summit of the Americas, which was held in December 1994 in Miami. The Heads of State and Government of the 34 democracies in the region agreed to construct a Free Trade Area in which barriers to trade and investment will be progressively eliminated.

Last year, Ambassador Bernal declared that the region is "actively positioning itself to re-shape the 'vision' of the FTAA, in accordance with Regional development goals and priorities."

At the time, a CARICOM statement explained: "The FTAA is an integral part of the strategic trade options being explored by the Region, in order to create sustained economic development in highly open economies. As such, CARICOM Countries continue to attach importance to the FTAA process and its objectives, despite the eighteen month hiatus and mounting expressions of doubt over the successful conclusion of negotiations.

"While the Miami Ministerial Declaration altered the original 'vision' of the FTAA, the objectives and philosophy which underpinned the vision of the thirty-four Heads of Government during the first Summit of the Americas in 1994 remain unchanged, and relevant to CARICOM Countries and their hemispheric partners.

"The establishment of a single economic space through the implementation of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME) remains an essential part of the Region's preparatory process for the FTAA. CARICOM Countries view the FTAA as forming the broad platform for their trade integration in the Hemisphere, and therefore are keen on the expeditious resumption of formal negotiations."

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