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RegionsWatch >> A monthly look at developments in global regionalisms
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What's happening in the regions in April?
19 April--23 April
no news: monitoring...
12 April--16 April

  • The Easter week always presents itself as a perfect opportunity for a holiday-and Belgium, especially, is no exception to this. For this country, every holiday is welcome. Not when you’re in the world of international regional politicking however. Here, Russia is also no exception for during this quiet week, the pulse of regional politicking was beating its fastest in this region.

    Over the past few weeks, RegionsWatch has uncovered developments in the region, and almost hinted at a sense of malaise between the European Union and the Russian Federation. Perhaps, this was premature, for if the article in The Russia Journal of 16 April is any guide, Russia, by way of its involvement in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) had already foreseen a need to engage together and cooperate with its neighbours. The article is more explicit: “other prime ministers were upbeat, with most proposing concrete ways of boosting the level of cooperation and integration within the Commonwealth, which comprises 12 former Soviet republics, except for the three Baltic States of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, which are expected to join the European Union on May 1.”

    That speaks volumes about the CIS’ intentions, as well as a desire to establish the inevitable-a free-trade zone. In fact, as the article maintains, Ukrainian Prime Minister Viktor Yanukhovich has already called for the creation of one, which he describes as a “start of a new level of cooperation and integration.”

    Other notable issues in this article include the fact that Russia is also, inevitably, keen to facilitate more regional integration efforts in the CIS; plus a calling by more countries within this grouping (including Georgia and Ukraine) that are also becoming more vociferous about cooperation.


  • China is no stranger to regional trading news, and the development last week was testimony-if ever-that that populous country has some serious designs. To be frank, this news was one of the more prominent issues of the week, with RegionsWatch uncovering no less than four articles discussing this issue.

    The first dates to 14 April-just two days after Easter Monday.

    It would be Malaysia’s The Star online newspaper that would be the first to bring the news of the putative free-trade agreement between China and New Zealand. The paper maintains (thanks to AP in New Zealand) that it will be next year that formal free trade talks will begin on the trade agreement. It could “provide significant benefits to both economies” NZ Premier Helen Clark is supposed to have said.

    It emerged from this report that New Zealand is “the first developed economy” invited to negotiate such a deal “by the rapidly growing Asian giant” [Clark’s words].

    The formal cooperation will be signed in June.

    However, given China’s apparently notorious record on human rights, some quarters are skeptical, albeit weary, about the utility of such a free-trade agreement. Sutton, New Zealand’s trade minister, has argued that the NZ govt is committed to a “One China” policy. According to NZ City, which went a step further in its reporting, Sutton maintained that “keeping open the lines of trade is one way to influence change.” Sutton, according to the paper, stated that China is now New Zealand’s fourth largest trading partner “with exports to the nation doubling in the past six years.” On the industries that will benefit NZ, he cited those of “dairy; meat; wool; forestry; and niche manufacturing...” as the beneficiaries.

    The on-line paper, ABC News, reported that China is already in talks to create “such an agreement” with the ASEAN countries by 2010. China has also hinted at signing a free-trade agreement with Australia.

    Finally, on this item, as Steel Orbis reported on 16 April, some interesting figures: “during 12 months, ended in June 2003, exports of New Zealand to [China as a] major trade partner, accounted NZ$1.5 billion ($955 million)...”It provided a latest scoop: that China had engaged in free-trade talks with INDIA last year. These talks came to naught.

  • MEXICO (Nafta) - MERCOSUR:

  • The title of the news from Xinhua news agency could have not been more explicit: “Mexico wants to join Mercosur as full member”. In truth, RegionsWatch uncovered only two articles during the week about this, though, doubtless, there probably were more.

    As for this latter paper, it reports that it is [undoubtedly] the President of Mexico Vicente Fox that has made the request to become an associate member of Mercosur. An interesting gem of a statistic it provides: “around 85 percent of Mexico’s foreign trade is with the United States, but the biggest [trading partner] is Latin America [which] has been seeking to reduce its dependence on the United States by finding [other] markets.”

    The second article (dating 15 April) came from Mercopress South Atlantic’s News Agency. In this article, the reporting was more detailed and elaborate. We uncover a name many may have already come across in last year’s abortive talks in Cancun-Derbez.

    We read that the Foreign Minister Luius Ernesto Derbez initiated the request on Wednesday 14 April in Paraguay. He also suggested that this request would be with a view to Mexico becoming a full member of MERCOSUR at some point in the future. One wonders whether this request is not coming in the wake of some serious jitters within the Fox administration about the fledgling FTAA talks. Speculations, speculations...

    Nonetheless, we read that apart from Derbez bringing this issue up in Paraguay, he was actually on a tour of the other MERCOSUR countries (namely: Uruguay and Argentina). There was no mention of the regional hegemon, Brazil, though.

    Derbez, in his remonstrations for associate membership, suggested that the associate membership, Mexico hopes, would be akin to that of Chile’s [no mention of Bolivia that is also an associate member?]. RegionsWatchw is unsure whether the report was erroneous at the point where it contended Bolivia and Peru are also members. As far as the website goes, only Chile and Bolivia are; Peru is part of the Andean Community.

    In any event, after all this drama, the paper ended with an interesting statistic from Derbez: “Mexican investment in MERCOSUR will increase to 8 billion US dollars, equivalent to almost 40% of Mexico’s investment in the region.”

  • BAHAMAS (Caricom) - FTAA:

  • The man behind this whole article in the Nassau Guardian of 16 April is Minister of Economic Development Zhivargo Laing who, on Wednesday, argued that the Bahamas should ride, on essence, on the back of free trade and run the risk of being left behind.

    In his address to members of the Bahamas Chamber of Commerce “admonished members not to fear free trade, but to understand its logistics.” In truth, this is sound advice, but wait for it, he goes further: “The Bahamas is one of the freest trading societies in the world. Consider the freedom with which goods and services flow in and out of this country.”

    He maintained that if Bahamas were to take the free trade route and, by extension, embrace the so-called Singapore issues (trade facilitation; government procurement; liberalisation of services; competition...) it could obtain “a taste of the $30 trillion world economy”.

    Laing suggested that if Bush is re-elected, efforts on the FTAA will be ignited, but even with Kerry in the White House, although efforts will be less fervent, it would still come to pass. This no-way-out vision is something that sits very uneasily with a substantial part of the NGO community worldwide, but this is not an address to NGOs, so it is somewhat understandable. Making people like Laing accountable to the regional integration efforts of CARICOM may prove to be difficult if this is the view he holds.

    Having said that, he is right to argue that free trade can work in conjunction with alternatives, such as “relatively disciplined monetary and fiscal policies”. Even better still, he maintains free trade is good-“under the right conditions.”

  • CANADA (Nafta):

  • In a landmark change, the Canadian government, as reports an article from Today’s Trucking, will divide its department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade into two. This means that, as a result of structural changes to the government announced last December, the roles and responsibilities of these two “new” departments will be separated.

    International trade Canada will now manage Export and Import Controls Bureau and other trade-related matters; as well as negotiate free-trade agreements, whereas Foreign Affairs Canada (FAC) will be responsible for “foreign affairs; foreign policy; travel assistance and other activities of a diplomatic and consular nature” the paper reports.


  • According to the UN Wire [an independent service covering the UN and the World] of 16 April, the African Union (AU) said at a meeting in Addis Ababa (in fact, its fifth session of the Peace & Security Council, which you can find under the “Resources” page on the homepage of RegionsWatch) that it would dispatch “a group of monitors to Sudan’s Western Darfur region, where severe conflict has resulted in the outpouring of some 110 refugees into Chad and the displacement of hundreds of thousands.”

    The online report maintains that military observers from the Big ECOWAS Three (Ghana, Senegal; and Nigeria) and Namibia will be in the region to “see that a 45-day cease-fire is carried out among militia groups, government soldiers and rebel fighters, so that aid workers can more easily assist the suffering.” [culled from Marc Lacey’s article in the New York Times of 15 April].

    In an unexpected development, it is the small and impoverished ECOWAS country CHAD (also in the news because of intentions by the World Bank to build a pipeline between itself and Cameroon) that has initiated the mediation between the two sides. It announced on Wednesday 14 April that “political negotiations between the Sudanese government and rebels from Darfur on the conflict” would begin on Tuesday 20 April [today] in the capital N’djamena.

    Fingers crossed.

  • INDIA (Saarc) - PAKISTAN (Saarc):

  • According to The Times of India of 15 April, “a slow, steady and meticulous approach needs to be adopted by both Pakistan and India if there is to be meaningful progress in bilateral ties.” This is at least the opinion of one Pakistani human rights expert. He made this statement at a seminar on the future of Indo-PAK relations

    His statement makes for a regrettable outlook on the whole rapprochement between the two countries. I mean, didn’t these two countries only play cricket against each other almost two weeks ago? Are we to believe that that in itself is not an indication of “normalcy.”?

    To not disregard the comments by these experts, but it is regrettable that their pronouncements often reek of doom and gloom: “though both countries were trying to achieve friendship, so far they had only been able to shed the dust in their hearts.”

    As reported in the news worldwide today, India, the biggest democracy in the world, is about to go to the polls. If these elections do not hint at a sign of rapprochement between the two alledged rivals, what else can? If it’s any comfort, RegionsWatch believes that although there is a long way to go (especially because of Kashmir), the bold steps taken by India around regional integration - both in SAARC and ASEAN - will only help to foster more than a tolerance between these two countries. It would be interesting to hear what our Asian subscribers have to say about this. Pls comment: webmaster@regionsWatch.zzn.com


  • Speaking of which, China isn’t only interested in a free-trade deal with NZ (pls see above), but also one with one of the SAARC big three - Pakistan.

    According to China Daily, on late Thursday 15 April, Pakistani Foreign Minister Khurshid Kasuri, in Beijing, announced the establishment of a free-trade area between the two countries.

    Pakistan is hoping for investment from CHINA’s private sector “as China is now not only a large investment receiver, but a large investor.” Both sides have opined the alliance is only economic--not a military one. And neither is it supposed to affect the relations with other partners and countries.

    An interesting gem is that last year, China gave Pakistan a $500million for assistance with infrastructure projects.

    May the alliance continue!


  • According to economists from the region at the Asian Economic Panel conference on 13 April, it emerged that “China’s success at reaching free-trade agreements with neighbouring countries will be driven by political factors-not economic ones” reports the Standard.

    The paper hinted at the politics driving these agreements-and touched on the point that so acute have the politics become that it is preventing countries like CHINA and JAPAN from establishing free-trade agreements. It maintains that the rivalry is “clouding the outlook for any agreement”. This is because of “anti-Japanese historical sentiment in China, and Japan’s security links to the US.”

    The economists argue that ASEAN and CHINA are not necessarily the most predictable of bedfellows in the sense that “China has roared past ASEAN in attracting foreign investment and will likely surpass it in technological development soon.”

    What is most likely to happen is that an ASEAN-CHINA deal will dethrone JAPAN, replacing her with CHINA as SouthEast Asia’s “growth engine.”


  • On Friday 23 April, the EU and MERCOSUR countries will be meeting in another exchange of “new negotiations proposals in the framework of the association, trade and cooperation agreement that has been under discussion by both blocks over four years.” This is at least what MERCOPRESS was reporting on 14 April.

    The paper maintained that the “new EU proposal includes a greater market opening for agriculture”, which remains one of the most contentious issue generally in the international development community.

    Now, in the week that the EU suggested that it was putting paid to the so-called Singapore issues at the WTO, it was interesting to note that in reading this article, the impression was rather the opposite. Apparently, the EU “will be looking closely at the government procurement proposal, which should have been ready last year.” [Posted:Tuesday 20 April @ 4.10pm EST]

    5 April--9 April
  • In what is proving to be a boon to ASEAN's regional integration, the so-called "early harvest programme" between China & ASEAN countries is proving to be not just successful, but a considerable boost to the facilitation of the development of ASEAN. This is because not only has the free-trade agreement been in the interest of both China and its Southeast neighbours, but also because the two sides have cut tariffs on about 600 agricultural imports [from] 2 to 15 percent. As the People's Daily Online newspaper maintains, this has been the trend since the programme was implemented on January 1 this year. To boot, the two sides have agreed to "scrap these tariffs in 2006".

    The paper maintains that out of all the ASEAN countries, it is Thailand that "leads ASEAN members in initiating FTA programmes as it signed an agreement with China to phase out all taxes on 188 fruits and vegetables starting last October." As a result of this programme, the paper continues, there has been a "flood of produce onto each other's market with the first zero-tariff agreement in place."

    So successful has this programme proved to be that even the imports from the US and the EU have turned out to be more expensive than the produce of ASEAN members. A case in point is that of cabbage. Chinese cabbage is priced at 13 Thai baht, or 33 US cents in Thailand. This turns out to be 76 baht, or US$1.95 lower than those imported from the latter two regions.

    It goes without saying that such examples of intra-regional trade is something more like what the rest of other regional integration projects-particularly in the South-need. Something in the line of the IBSA [India; Brazil; South Africa] group? So, like, SADC-MERCOSUR-SAARC cooperation? How's that for size?

  • GCC-EU
  • In a dramatic turn of events, Business Times reports that the Arabian Gulf Cooperation Council Chief (AGCC), on 7 April, lambasted the EU for "procrastinating" the conclusion of a free-trade agreement. between itself and the EU. The senior official argued that the deal had been in negotiation for fifteen years now-and it was, therefore, time for the EU to fess up and lay the cards on the table, by indicating whether it wanted to proceed with the agreement or not.

    The AGCC Chief, Abdulrahman Al Attiya, suggested that the EU was putting the spanner in the workings of the deal by citing something else - usually a political issue - each time the discussions took place. The GCC, the paper maintains, is very keen to finish the deal. Perhaps a visit by the AGCC Chief and Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Shaikh Mohammad Al Sabah to Brussles-already slated for 19 May so as to discuss further with the EU- may help.

  • According to ABC News Australia, NZ is keen to develop a free-trade agreement with the US. It probably goes without saying that that Australia-NZ's big brother-recently penned one with the US has rang alarm bells in the Clarke administration that NZ is being left behind?

    The Foreign Minister, Phil Goff, suggests that his country might just be upset if the US fails to agree on a pact with New Zealand. It bears reminding that NZ and Australia have been operating a free-trade agreement between themselves [ANZCERTA] for twenty years now.

    The sense of despair does not end there, for Phil Goff maintains that if the US fails to reach an agreement with New Zealand, it would "risk distorting…regional trade."

  • Leading MERCOSUR country Brazil, is expected to "swap initial terms of deals Andean nations and the European Union this month" reports the World Bank in its daily press review. It emerged from this review, of 7 April, also that discussions over the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) is floundering, which suggests that progress has been stalled. The major bone of contention was over agriculture-as elaborated on last week in the RegionsWatch Observatory.

    The proposal faces "opposition from a US-led group of 14 nations, many of which already have trade deals with the United States and want a more ambitious deal." Whether this will happen or not remains a moot point. What is clear, though, is that these blocked discussions have emboldened blocs, such as MERCOSUR, to devise alternative strategies. Especially acute is MERCOSUR's desire for an alternative, in the light of the rumours doing the round that MERCOSUR would be killed off-or subsumed by FTAA.

    The latest developments from these frustrated talks reveal a major blip in the region: that is of MERCOSUR, being led by Brazil to create a "South American free trade zone with Bolivia, Colombia; Ecuador; Peru & Venezuela." This would take place by-latest--July 1.

    It appears that with the FTAA discussions floundering, and the EU-MERCOSUR discussions - slated for 15 April as planned - made difficult by virtue of farm market access, all is not necessarily well on the trade front. At least, not for the US.

    According to MERCOPRESS news of 5 April, the latest developments surrounding free-trade agreements in the MERCOSUR/Andean Pact Community region are very, very positive. This is because "after eight exhausting years of negotiations, three of the five members of the Andean Community...signed in Buenos Aires a free trade agreement with Mercosur."

    The countries in question are Colombia; Ecuador; and Venezuela. Bolivia and Peru signed one respectively in 1996 and 2003.

    What this means, in effect, is that there has emerged "a customs union that comprises the whole of South America, excepting the three Guyana, and Associate Mercosur member Chile" [already with too many free-trade ags under her belt].

    MERCOSUR included textiles, paper and steel; whereas CAN members added agricultural produce, such as "wheat and soyabeans, and the automobile industry."

    Argentine International Trade Representative Martin Redrado opined "the confirmation of a free trade zone with CAN and MERCOSUR is a first huge step towards regional integration."

    Tell me about it.

  • According to a four-page article from the Australian-based Newsweekly.com, the United States has as much as duped the Australian public into thinking that the AUS-USFTA would benefit Australians. Especially acute now are the issues of tariffs; quarantine; and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) . The author(s) decry the agreement as being a "monumental folly".
  • The Russian-based newspaper Neftegaz.ru reports that a trade war could be "looming" between the European Union and the Russian federation after 1 May. This is because once the ten new countries join "the structure", it is likely to incur losses to the tune of US$150m to Russia. German Gref-head of Russia's Ministry of Economic Development and Trade, made this statement.
  • According to an article in the online Russian Information Agency Novosti, an economic forum, on 6 April, took place between Azerbaijan and Russia. The purpose of this forum was to enhance economic cooperation between the two countries. Day One ended with a resolution on cooperation "in the petroleum sector". The primary aim, in fact, was to "discuss progress in the implementation of the Russi-Azerbaijan Long-Term Cooperation Program, through the year 2010."
  • According to an ECOWAS Parliamentarian - Professor Ali Nouhoum Diallo - countries of the ECOWAS region must be ready to sacrifice their sovereignty "in order to achieve greater integration." Diallo made this statement at the week-long meeting of the Joint Standing Committee on Economy Finance & Trade, Bedget Control and Accounts of the ECOWAS Parliament. (PanaPress)

    Diallo emphasized support from members in ECOWAS countries, arguing that "Parliament was urgently needed to facilitate the community's integration process." Furthermore, ECOWAS would need to work with external partners-ie those of the multilateral kind, so as to strengthen and develop ECOWAS.

  • For the fourth time running, Japan has contributed to the ECOWAS region by donating $70, 000 as "an additional contribution towards the promotion of political dialogue in Liberia…", reports a press statement from the ECOWAS website. In a letter from the Japanese Embassy in ECOWAS H/Q Nigeria, the embassy maintained the money would "support the organisation to continue its meditation efforts to ensure the successful implementation of the agreement."

    Since 2001, Japan has been contributing to various ECOWAS programmes in the area of peace and security.

  • It looks like Australia has also been caught up in the free-trade agreement bug. First, there was the US-AUSFTA. Now there's talk of a deal between ASEAN and Australia. To be fair, it's not a new debate. Howard, Australia's premier, has broached the issue a couple of times especially after the events of September 11 2001, but almost every country in that region has been busy signing deals left, right, and centre that the issue has gone off course. Now that trade deals are blowing in the right direction for a country like Australia, it's time to steer the course clear and straight...towards ASEAN.

    However, as ABC News reported on 6 April, the putative deal would not be limited to trade, but also "security"-and it would definitely be within the South East Asia region. There will actually be discussions between the Howard government and the Secretary-General of ASEAN Ong Keng Yong.

    To boot, Alexander Downer, the Foreign Minister, "says Canberra will stress its interest in a free trdae agreement with the ten countries of ASEAN; an idea that was previously blocked by Malaysia." The article, sadly, does not elaborate on the motives behind Malaysia's blocking, but RegionsWatch did its best to find out. The basic explanation is that Malaysia believes with Australia linked so closely with ASEAN, it will dilute the South East Asian element-after all, Australia is hardly an Asian country in the strictest sense of the term. [for more info, please check: THE ROAD TO RICHES WE DIDN'T TAKE
    From: http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/12/02/1070351584753.html
    Date: 2 December, 2003
    By: John Edwards]

  • Call it coincidence-or providence. The very day after the RegionsWatch website was updated, I heard on one of Belgium's popular radio stations (Radio Contact) news about a statement made by this same Pacific Island's Forum, their meeting, and how terrorism was also one of the items on the agenda. To think that I had never heard of this regional grouping till the day before made for a quizzical moment. In any event, the crux of the news item was that just because they are small countries in the Pacific does not exclude them from the threat of terrorism. It was a piece of sobering news that also emphasized how important regional integration efforts are becoming. The website of ABC, from where I obtained this news item on the Pacific Island's Forum meeting, also has a daily clip of recorded radio interviews. There is, on that same site, an interview of NZ Premier Helen Clarke, and John Howard, Australia's head of state. Howard, in his characteristically stolid tone, appeared very perfunctory in his responses; Clarke was a bit more upbeat-emphasizing how important it was for regional integration efforts to be fostered in the wake of what is emerging to be a very dangerous world. For more info, pls check http://www.abc.net.au/ra/asiapac/default.htm

    All that aside, the news item from the listed paper reported on 6 April that the sixteen-member grouping has adopted a "pacific mission" statement, agreeing that "the region needs a long-term Pacific plan." At this meeting, the countries with the two biggest economies-Australia and New Zealand-were to "consider a report commissioned by the forum leader's meeting last August".

    Visiting the website (to read the Press Statement) of the Pacific Islands Forum that same day (the Secretariat is based in Suva, FIJI), it was interesting to read about the following developments:

  • a Regional Trade Facilitation Programme (RTFP) will be implemented
  • It will aim at facilitating trade in areas of Customs procedures, Quarantine requirements, and Standards and Conformance
  • The RTFP will assist the private sector within the Pacific countries to be more competitive
  • The Forum Trade Ministers meeting is part of "ongoing regional efforts to implement PACER and the Pacific Island Countries Trade Agreement (PICTA)"
  • PACER entered into force in October 2002; whereas PICTA on 13 April, 2003
  • Officials will consider feasibility trade in services discussion

  • ASEAN-US blues
  • Two ASEAN countries - Malaysia & Indonesia - in an explicit show of "defiance" towards the United States, have rejected calls for a US maritime security initiative. The on-line paper ABC Australia reports that the initiative "to boost security in the Malacca Straits is dead in the water..."-even before it "it had an official launch". The objective of the putative initiative was to "combat the threat of terrorism in the busy shipping channel straddling Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia." Watch out for more stances from Indonesia and Malaysia!
  • Has the bear come back from the Cold? Russia is certainly a country to watch out for as tensions heat up over regional integration efforts over the EU (pls see article above). Russia is talking about a so-called Common Economic Space (CES), which would comprise Ukraine, Russia; Kazakhstan; and Belarus.

    In the first of two articles RegionsWatch uncovered about Russia's (open) secret to foster regional integration efforts among itself and three other countries over energy and fuel, we read with interest that Putin, and his Premier Fradkov, have stated categorically that "the formation of a CES must begin with [a] free trade zone." Ukrainian President Kuchma concedes. Now, there is talk of "strategic agreements between the four" presidents. The issue of commodities had been mentioned.

    Did you know? Russia provided assistance to Ukraine last year after that country suffered poor grain harvest. There will be further strategic cooperation between the two countries in the energy sector.

    Th establishment, so continues the second report from Interfax news agency, of the CES would be about cooperation "in the framework of the zone". This would create "favourable conditions for the economies of the four countries and make their products competitive on outside markets."

    As if to reinforce the point, Russia-Ukraine collaboration was mentioned. Putin praised Kuchma's country's economy for having done well in GDP: it rose to what Russia considers an admirable 10.5%. The turnover of goods, the article maintains, between the two country runs to the tune of $2billion-certainly nothing to be sneezed at---even in a cold country like Russia.

    With Russia's German Gref (pls see above) castigating the EU over its pressure for Russia to sign an FTA with the EU, plus Gref having expressed a possible "trade war", this region is also definitely another one to watch especially after 1 May.

    [Posted:Tuesday 13 April @ 4.20pm EST]

    29 March--2 April
  • FTAA
  • :
    Two contrasting views of the talks that will lead to a putative, or so-called, Free Trade Area of the Americas(FTAA) were one of the features that dominated the regional trade scene the week beginning 29 March 2004. There were actually three sources, but it was interesting that one from the Voice of America newswire was in stark distinction-in terms of content-from that of the Xinhua News Agency.

    The Voice of America maintained that the reason why talks were being postponed Thursday 1 April was because “of differences over farm subsidies.” Contrast this with Xinhua News Agency that went into more detail pointing to a US fault: “Argentine International Trade Secretary Martin Redrado told a press conference that negotiations remained stalled due to the US “ambiguity” on the issue of agriculture…”

    Especially noteworthy about what is proving to be abortive FTAA discussions are the following:

  • March deadline for discussions was missed
  • New date had been scheduled for 22 April
  • February’s round of talks among the 34 nations resulted in failure because of farm subsidies
  • Having said that, Xinhua News maintains that there was a two-day meeting that included delegates from MERCOSUR countries; NAFTA countries; Costa Rica; Chile; Ecuador; Venezuela; and [even] CARICOM “in an effort to break the [stalemate over] free trade negotiations.”

    The article over the FTAA, entitled FTAA ’05 deadline in jeopardy, penned by Jane Bussey of the Miami Herald newspaper was a long article that alluded to the very idea that the year-end deadline would be jeopardized.

    To boot, Bussey hinted at “deepening discord” among the group, arguing that discussions had been “slow”. She revealed that the next meeting may be held sometime in May after the Puebla meeting slated for 22-23 April.

    One difference between this article and the latter two was the fact that it included a perspective from civil society. This time, it came by the name of Lori Wallach, known by many in the NGO community for her progressive views on the WTO and the fight against neoliberalism. She is described by Bussey as “a free-trade opponent”, but credits her for being “director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch” in Washington.

    What the US wants is what the US usually gets-but maybe, just this time, they won’t because as much as the haggling by negotiators alike continue, MERCOSUR is inveterate in its stance: as long as the US does not put an end to price supports “and other farm subsidies”, negotiations will continue to be deadlocked.

  • CHINA-JAPAN (Asean)
  • :
    Featured in the Seattle Post Intelligence, a news item from AP maintained, “free trade arrangements are all the rage in Japan.” This refers to the fact that other than Japan’s March FTA with Mexico, it signed an FTA with Singapore in 2001; hopes to conclude one by the end of 2004 with: Thailand; Malaysia; Philippines. It also wants another one with South Korea in 2005; and initiated one with Indonesia.

    The article maintains Japan needs “to break down trade barriers to keep going with the times.” The article suggests that the reason for these developments stems from Japan’s desire, by any means necessary, to frustrate China’s plans of establishing FTAs within the core of the South East Asian countries. Looks like Japan doesn’t want to “miss the bus”. Besides, it’s got its farmers to think about too.

  • :
    According to TurkishPress, Albania-not yet agreed upon to enter the EU-is quick to capitalise on a Free-Trade agreement with Turkey. This is the third time in as many weeks that Turkey is interested in establishing an FTA, and is definitely not the only one! Having said that, what is most noteworthy is Albania’s attitude, which, frankly, reeks of desperation. RegionsWatch suspects this apparent desperation can be attributed to the formal coming-in of the ten countries on 1 May.
  • :
    It’s always good to know that you have an ally in the EU, even if your prospective ally knows you’re only a strategic partner. This must be one of the many things Pakistan is thinking as it consolidates relations between itself and Austria. The two countries are not necessarily countries that could automatically come to mind when discussing bilateral cooperation. Nonetheless, a 25-member delegation from Austria, according to Dawn News will “visit Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad during the first week of October.”

    The article maintains that the Austrians believe Pakistan is “fast emerging as a new market in the region.” And so, it’s only good for TNCs to want to operate there-as logic would dictate. A Pakistani official argued that Austria “could serve as one…of the gateways for Pakistani business entrepeurners to enter the Eastern flank of the European Union.”

  • :
    You may recall that the week beginning 22 March, the EU appeared desperate to sign a free-trade deal with Russia. Now, it's official: according to EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy, 90 percent "of the problems and the remaining 10 percent...have been laid down as part of the basic political principles". For Russia, it's not the EU's desperation they're worried about as the impact of the 10 new countries joining. Russia's priority, so maintains Vietnam's BVOM.COM news, is that the EU's customs tariffs and controls do not make moving goods between the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad and Russia "economically unviable". In short, Russia hopes it won't bear the costs of trade when it signs the deal with the EU.

    In order to mollify the Russians, the EU have promised a reduction in average duties--from 9 percent to 4 percent. However, the EU is also keeping a keen eye on Russia, and has promised to be swift in slapping sanctions "if the accord were not extended unconditionally". Another final point has to do with Russia's entry into the WTO, which the EU is monitoring. The EU basically wants Russia "to stop regulating gas prices and split Gazprom's $16 billion export market before it joins the WTO." Swell.

  • MEXICO (Nafta) - JAPAN FTA
  • :
    If Japan has been singled out for being the only country that has gone free-trade crazy, then here's some welcome news for Japan--it's not alone! Mexico is also in the news not only for its agreement with Japan signed recently, but also because...it's negotiated 11 free trade agreements with 29 countries in the past 12 years (Houston Chronicle) . The article maintains that since it signed NAFTA in 1993, its President Vicente Fox has been keen to establish as many FTAs as possible. The reasonb being that this translates to economic growth for the country.

    According to the article, it looks like despite these FTAs, Mexico hasn't become any richer--the gap has certainly widened. With an economy that has not been performing very well, it beggars belief why less consideration has been given to the very serious problems of the poor. If FTAs have done anything, they have exposed the cleavages that were endemic in the country--not reduced them.

    Consumers have not had it any better than before the FTAs, with prices having gone higher than usual. The current minimum wage in Mexico is 46 pesos a day, or $4.20, but rose only a peso in the last year. What is to blame then isn't free trade alone (opening the economy to a number of FTAs has a seriously adverse effect on the economy as it opens "the door to tough international competition". To boot, these FTAs are erroneously seen as a conduit to foreign investment, but prove to be only part of a solution to increased investment.

    The long ans short of the article is that FTAs will prove to be beneficial if--and only if--it is better negotiated. Implicit in this, one would suppose, is the need for careful consideration rather than a rush to sign them like they're going to run away if you don't catch them on time...(!!)


  • According to a communiqué from the AU website that was featured on allafrica.com, the Peace & Security Council of the African Union, in its third session, on 27 March, discussed the sitiuation in Côte d'Ivoire. A number of interesting points were raised, but the most pertinent, perhaps, is the fact that the African Union wants to ensure coherence in the resolution of conflicts on the African continent.

    To this end, the communiqué praises the 15-member ECOWAS group for having handled, under the chairmanship of the Ghanaian incumbent President John Kufuor, the situation with tact. It "commends [ECOWAS] for its tireless efforts to promote lasting reconciliation in Côte d'Ivoire and reiterates AU's support for those efforts". It also calls on UN and sub-regional processes--i.e. further ECOWAS efforts--to be sustained in order to bring peace and stability to the troubled country.

  • :
    You could almost feel the blows between Tunisia and Egypt last week when Egypt proposed to host the next meeting of the Arab League. This was definitely not something Tunisia had expected--in spite of the fact that it was the country that had let member countries of the League down.

    The story so far: The meeting had to take place on 29-30 March. Suddenly, Tunisia said "sorry"; Egypt stepped in, and proposed 16 April latest to hold the summit. Anger ensued, and acrimonies set in. RegionsWatch went to a different source for more on this this time--the francophone Courrier International, which featured information , and a press review on Wednesday 31 March as its lead story.

    If the putative meeting had taken place, members of the League would have wanted to discuss how to turn the Arab League into something modelled on the EU. Haven't they been listening? Academic Andrew Hurrell maintains the EU is not the only region to be emulated. To read more about this, please check RegionsWatch's page on the theory behind regional trade here.

    Having said that, they believe that in reforming the League to that of one like the EU, that would be "tangible proof of Arab unity." CourrierInternational.com, however, maintains that its cancellation doesn't signify gloom either. To be frank, though, what really did shake the credibility of the Arab League, the article maintains, was the 1991 Gulf War, including the League's pussyfooting--if any action at all--on Iraq's aggression towards Kuwait. That the League failed to respond to the crisis did not--and has not--augur(ed) well for a consolidation of credibility which it so desperately needs.

    To not make too much of what is, in effect, an unfortunate incident that has led to a lot of acrimony, some quarters of the Arab League have claimed that the reason why it was cancelled is because other quarters do not want to see "or discuss reforms and democracy".

  • SOUTH-KOREA-CHILE (Mercosur)
  • :
    On Wednesday 31 March, Yonhap News reported that South Korea is to enter into a free-trade agreement with one of the Associate members of MERCOSUR--Chile. This will be the country's first-ever trade agreement, and will take effect [has already taken effect at time of writing...] on Thursday 1 April. , "giving added impetus to the ocuntry's robust but sluggish domestic consumption". Let's hope it was no April's fool...
  • :
    RegionsWatch was pleased to come across another article from Australia's ABC news last week which was not only on the US-Australia FTA. This time, an article alluded to a free-trade agreement between that country and one of the most populous countries in the WTO: China. The interesting and unprecedented development of this article was the report that "Australians are being asked to comment". Bravo, once again, to Australia for involving, or rather, making its population more included in discussions on free-trade agreements. We saw this a few weeks ago over the US-Australia FTA. The level of scrutiny on that agreement is exemplary. Whether it can emulated elsewhere (ie in other countries) remains to be seen.

    In any event, the long and short is that Australia's Department of Foreign Affairs & Trade (DFAT), after having created a task force, has "called for public submissions and comment on a free trade treaty with China." The study will be completed by October 2005. Wow. This is what RegionsWatch would like to refer to as a model of acccountability in the context of its mantra "Making Regions Accountable".

    [Posted:Monday 29 March @ 4.58pm EST]

    *This page is under heavy construction. If you have any queries, do not hesitate to get in touch -- see left hand side of screen. Thanks*--Ekb

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