In an op-ed published in the WSJ (here's a version re-published on another site: http://www.truthabouttrade.org/article.asp?id=6820 ), former USTR Robert Zoellick has called for a new trade initiative in the Americas:
This year President Bush and the Democratic-led Congress should launch a new Association of American Free Trade Agreements (AAFTA). The AAFTA could shape the future of the Western Hemisphere, while offering a new foreign and economic policy design that combines trade, open societies, development and democracy. In concert with successful immigration reform, the AAFTA would signal to the Americas that, despite the trials of war and Asia's rising economic influence, U.S. global strategy must have a hemispheric foundation.
Successful and sustainable international strategies must be constructed across administrations. Ronald Reagan called for free trade throughout the Americas, opened U.S. markets to our Caribbean neighbors, and completed an FTA with Canada. George H.W. Bush completed negotiations for a North American FTA, offered trade preferences to the Andean countries, negotiated peace in Central America, and freed Panama. Bill Clinton secured the passage of Nafta, launched work on a Free Trade Area of the Americas, and backed Plan Colombia.
George W. Bush enacted FTAs with Chile, the five states of Central America and the Dominican Republic. He also completed FTAs with Colombia, Peru and Panama. If Congress passes these agreements, the U.S. will finally have an unbroken line of free trade partners stretching from Alaska to the tip of South America. Not counting the U.S., this free trade assembly would comprise two-thirds of both the population and GDP of the Americas.
The AAFTA would draw together these 13 partners to build on the gains of free trade. It could also include the island states of the Caribbean Basin Trade Partnership Act. Starting with a small secretariat, perhaps in Miami, the AAFTA should advance hemispheric economic integration; link development and democracy with trade and aid; improve working and environmental conditions; and continue to pursue the goal of free trade throughout the hemisphere. It might even foster cooperation in the WTO's global trade negotiations. The AAFTA might be connected to an academic center, which could combine research and practice through an association among universities in the Americas.
For somewhat selfish reasons, I like the idea. There aren't too many trade people or events where I live in South Florida, so a secretariat and academic center in Miami would be welcome. As to the chances of this coming about, I've been searching the web for commentary, but have not found much yet. To see what has been said, click the link below. I'll add new items if and when I find them.
Commentary on the Zoellick AAFTA proposal:
Dan Drezner: "I'm curious to see how Democrats like Sherrod Brown would react to this, since in many ways, Zoellick is simply proposing a political trade with our FTA partners -- deeper economic integration in return for adding on stringent labor and environmental standards. Nominally, at least, this is what populists like Brown claim to want." http://www.danieldrezner.com/archives/003095.html
Lawrence Friedman at the Customs Law blog: "Rather than negotiate a new deal, Zoellick's idea is to forge links between the existing agreements. As a political matter, this seems like a dubious prospect. The current congressional leadership appears to be very sceptical of free trade either as a matter of economic philosophy or political strategy. Either way, the idea of an AAFTA seems unlikely to get much political traction.
Is it really a good idea? Probably. Unrestricted trade in goods and services allows countries to benefit from their comparative advantage. If that is labor, natural resources, or technical innovation, countries will profit from what ever it is they do best and outsource the areas in which they can't efficiently compete. Of course, the difficulty is in preventing countries in need of foreign investment dollars from using lax labor and environmental standards as their comparative advantage. That means addressing labor and the environment in these agreements to prevent the proverbial race to the bottom." http://customslaw.blogspot.com/2007/01/comment-on-zoellicks-aafta-and-new-link.html
Peter Morici of the University of Maryland: "Such an institution could extend free trade to non-participating countries such as Brazil, reinforce cooperation on immigration, labor rights and the environment, and assist businesses in building out markets on a hemispheric scale. What Zoellick and the trade-policy establishment fail to understand is that free trade is under attack because the US government, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, has failed to make free-trade agreements work as they should. ... An AAFTA and a free-trade agreement with a country like Brazil would plague American workers with another China. Bent on exporting without importing, Brazil would deprive even more American workers of good-paying jobs without offering them prospects for rewarding employment through equally increased exports." http://atimes01.atimes.com/atimes/Global_Economy/IA10Dj01.html
Trade Diversion blog: "Hemispheric trade talks are dead now, and AAFTA looks more like a botched anagram than an FTAA-saver." http://www.tradediversion.net/archives/2007/01/aafta.html
The Cardinal's Corner blog: "I agree with Zoellick wholeheartedly but he is on crack if he thinks the Dems are going to buy any of this." http://the-cardinal.blogspot.com/2007/01/great-idea-going-nowhere.html
Lou Dobbs' show:
DOBBS: Tonight, a proposal for an expanded so-called free trade zone from Alaska to the tip of South America. It's a plan from the business elites, the political elites, that will cost more American jobs, cost more American sovereignty, but it would fulfill the president's father's vision.
Bill Tucker reports.
BILL TUCKER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice over): It's not a new idea. President Bush talked about it back in 1991.
GEORGE HERBERT WALKER BUSH, FMR. PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: It is a big idea, a new world order, where diverse nations are drawn together in common cause.
TUCKER: Now former United States trade investor Robert Zoellick is talking about it again with renewed vigor. This time, a new world order with business at the helm of trade and economic policy. Advocating what he calls the Association of American Free Trade Agreements, a separate nongovernment entity which would include North, Central, and South America.
ROBERT SCOTT. ECONOMIC POLICY INST.: What Zoellick is really proposing here is a stealth trade agenda. It's not a national agenda. He's proposing to set up what is essentially a private organization to try to achieve what he couldn't get done when he was the U.S. trade representative. And this is a business agenda.
TUCKER: It's an agenda that goes hand in hand with the United States, Mexico, and Canada, working quietly and behind the scenes to promote a common market with common deregulation for the benefit of multinational corporations. It's an agenda that so far has resulted in an increase in U.S. corporate profits of 45 percent, while wages of American workers have risen only 3 percent in the last five years.
ALAN TONELSON, U.S. BUSINESS & INDUSTRY COUNCIL: The main danger raised by Zelic's (ph) proposal is that the future of American international economic policy, which affects not only our nation's prosperity but its national security, will be set not by the American people and their elected representatives, but by a small corporate elite is that accountable to no one but itself.
TUCKER: Effectively surrendering the sovereignty of the United States.
TUCKER (on camera): And as justification for trusting those who would have the authority? The argument is made that free trade promotes democracy and the welfare of the people.
But, Lou, one has to look further than China to see whether that, in fact, is true.
DOBBS: You know, talking about Zelic's proposal, it's not Zelic's proposal. It's daddy's proposal. And people better understand that they mean exactly what they're saying. It's a new world order they're trying to create. And they're trying to do so not only without approval or consent of the governing of this country, but despite the popular will. This is a straightforward assault by the elitists in this country.