The Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) (Spanish: Área de Libre Comercio de las Américas (ALCA), French: Zone de libre-échange des Amériques (ZLÉA), Portuguese: Área de Livre Comércio das Américas (ALCA), Dutch: Vrijhandelszone van de Amerika's) was a proposed agreement to eliminate or reduce the trade barriers among all countries in the Americas. In the latest round of negotiations, trade ministers from 34 nations met in Miami, Florida, United States, in November 2003 to discuss the proposal. The proposed agreement was an extension of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Canada, Mexico and the United States. Against the market are positioned Cuba, Venezuela and later Bolivia, Ecuador, Dominica, Nicaragua and Honduras, which entered the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas in response, and not strongly opposing but not supporting Argentina, Chile and Brazil.
Discussions have faltered over similar points as the Doha Development Round of World Trade Organization (WTO) talks; developed nations seek expanded trade in services and increased intellectual property rights, while less developed nations seek an end to agricultural subsidies and free trade in agricultural goods. Similar to the WTO talks, Brazil has taken a leadership role among the less developed nations, while the United States has taken a similar role for the developed nations.
Talks began with the Summit of the Americas in Miami on December 11, 1994, but the FTAA came to public attention during the Quebec City Summit of the Americas, held in Canada in 2001, a meeting targeted by massive anti-corporatization and anti-globalization protests. The Miami negotiations in 2003 met similar protests, though perhaps not as large. The last summit was held at Mar del Plata, Argentina, in November 2005, but no agreement on FTAA was reached. 26 of the 34 countries present at the negotiations pledged to meet again in 2006 to resume negotiations, but no such meeting took place.
In previous negotiations, the United States has pushed for a single comprehensive agreement to reduce trade barriers for goods, while increasing intellectual property protection. Specific intellectual property protections could include Digital Millennium Copyright Act-style copyright protections, similar to the U.S.-Australia Free Trade Agreement. Another protection would likely restrict the reimportation or cross-importation of pharmaceuticals, similar to the proposed agreement between the U.S. and Canada.
Brazil has proposed a measured, three-track approach that calls for a series of bilateral agreements to reduce specific tariffs on goods, and a hemispheric pact on rules of origin and dispute resolution processes. Brazil seeks to omit the more controversial issues from the agreement, leaving them to the WTO.
The location of the FTAA Secretariat was to have been determined in 2005. The contending cities are: Atlanta, Chicago, Galveston, Houston and Miami in the United States; Cancún and Puebla in Mexico; San Juan, Puerto Rico; Panama City, Panama; and Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago. The U.S. city of Colorado Springs also submitted its candidacy in the early days but subsequently withdrew. Miami, Panama City and Puebla served successively as interim secretariat headquarters during the negotiation process. As of November 2007, only Miami in the United States and Port of Spain in Trinidad appear to be actively vying for the secretariat headquarters. ,
The failure of the Mar del Plata summit to set out a comprehensive agenda to keep FTAA alive has meant that there is little chance for a comprehensive trade agreement in the foreseeable future.
Many North American countries experienced a debt crisis in the 1980s, such as Mexico in 1982. These debt crises contributed to a "lost decade" in terms of economic growth, the adoption of numerous stabilization and structural adjustment programs with the IMF, and a widespread re-evaluation of interventionist, protectionist and inward-looking development strategies. In 1984 the U.S. unilaterally lowered its tariffs against many states in the Caribbean Basin, as part of its Caribbean Basin Initiative.
Many Latin American countries took non-discriminatory steps towards trade liberalization in the late 1980s (lowering tariffs against all countries, not just selected ones). This was done partly to follow through on GATT (now the WTO) commitments, but also unilaterally as a domestic policy choice or at the urging of the IMF, the World Bank, the IDB, and USAID. Average tariff levels fell to about 20% in the region by the end of the 1980s.
Another wave of regional trade agreements took place in the late 1980s and early 1990s. In 1989 the AP agreed to move towards freer trade within the region, as did CACM and the Caribbean Community (Caricom) in 1990. The Southern Cone Common Market (Mercosur) notably including Brazil was established in 1991 with similar plans for freer regional trade.
The U.S. entered into the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in 1989, and the beginning of negotiations towards free trade between Mexico and the U.S. were announced the next year in 1990. These negotiations were soon expanded to include Mexico in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Several Latin American countries approached the U.S. after the announcement, seeking to negotiate their own bilateral free trade agreements with the U.S., but the U.S. refused to negotiate more bilateral PTAs in the region until NAFTA was implemented. Instead, in June 1990 U.S. President George H. W. Bush announced the Enterprise for the Americas Initiative with the goal of achieving hemispheric free trade by 2000.
In 1994 NAFTA came into force and the 1988–1994 Uruguay Round of General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) negotiations were completed. The goal of hemispheric free trade, which had been renamed the FTAA, was postponed until 2005 primarily at the request of Canada and the U.S.
A vocal critic of the FTAA is Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, who has described it as an "annexation plan" and a "tool of imperialism" for the exploitation of Latin America . As a counterproposal to this initiative, Chávez has promoted the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (Alternativa Bolivariana para las Américas, ALBA), based on the model of the European Union, which makes emphasis on energy and infrastructure agreements that are gradually extended to other areas finally to include the total economic, political and military integration of the member states.
On the other hand, the presidents of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and Argentina, Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, have stated that they do not oppose the FTAA but they do demand that the agreement provide for the elimination of US agriculture subsidies, the provision of effective access to foreign markets and further consideration towards the needs and sensibilities of its members.
One of the most contentious issues of the treaty proposed by the United States is with concerns to patents and copyrights. Critics claim that if the measures proposed by the US were implemented and applied this would prevent scientific research in Latin America, causing as a consequence more inequalities and technological dependence from the developed countries. On the issue of patents, some critics of the FTAA, such as Canadian nationalist Maude Barlow, have accused the US of attempting to patent Latin America-made inventions. On the Council of Canadians web site, Barlow wrote: "This agreement sets enforceable global rules on patents, copyrights and trademark. It has gone far beyond its initial scope of protecting original inventions or cultural products and now permits the practice of patenting plants and animal forms as well as seeds. It promotes the private rights of corporations over local communities and their genetic heritage and traditional medicines."
Negotiations on hold