San Diego Union-Tribune

April 23, 2001


Leaders endorse free trade expansion
   Often-tumultuous session comes to an end in Quebec


QUEBEC -- President Bush and 33 other leaders from the Western Hemisphere concluded their often-tumultuous summit yesterday by pledging they will push to create the world's largest regional free trade agreement.

As demonstrators for the environment and worker rights protested outside, the leaders wrapped up the third Summit of the Americas by adopting a sweeping plan to strengthen democratic government.

The 44-page document also targets a full range of environmental, health, social, political and economic problems common to the hemisphere.

In an apparent bow to California's electricity crisis, the declaration singles out energy "as one of the fundamental bases for economic development."

The leaders underscored a commitment "to pursuing renewable energy initiatives, promoting energy integration and enhancing regulatory frameworks . . . while promoting the principles of sustainable development."

At a news conference concluding the summit, Bush said sources of energy could be found by expanding the capacity of electricity grids linking the United States and Mexico. Bush also hailed technological advances that have vastly expanded Canada's crude oil supplies.

Later, after a post-summit meeting, Bush, Mexican President Vicente Fox and Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien issued a statement saying they had established an energy working group "in support of efficient North American energy markets."

The statement added that the three governments would work to ensure the human rights of migrants.

At the core of the summit's strategy is yesterday's decision to set a Jan. 1, 2005, deadline for completing negotiations to create a Free Trade Area of the Americas. The agreement, which would be implemented over the following 12 months, would create a $13 trillion market of 800 million consumers.

Mindful of the hemisphere's checkered record in advancing human rights and political freedom, the summit declaration paid tribute to "the values and practices of democracy." It added that any "unconstitutional" deviation from that path by a government in the hemisphere would constitute "an insurmountable obstacle" to its participation in future summits and, presumably, to playing a role in negotiating the proposed free trade area.

The only nation in the hemisphere not to participate in this or the previous two summits was Cuba, the sole exception to a democratic movement that the summits have been designed to advance.

Upon the conclusion of his first international summit, Bush told reporters: "I listened a lot. I learned a lot. There is no question in my mind that we have challenges ahead of us, but there's also no question that we can meet those challenges."

Mexico's president, in perhaps the most graphic and candid assessment of his region's troubled history, said that in the past, "people would meet in dark rooms, behind closed doors. . . . You got the impression that maybe people were ashamed of what they were doing."

Fox, describing the summit as a step toward ridding the hemisphere of its previous "baggage," said the momentum for change began when his nation, the United States and Canada signed the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994.

But most of the nearly 30,000 protesters who thronged to this 16th century fortress city made clear they had a different view of NAFTA's legacy. Many said there is a clear link between that agreement and deteriorating environmental protections and worker freedoms, particularly in Mexico.

After briefly disrupting the summit Friday, the protesters used their constant and noisy presence on the streets outside a fenced perimeter to dramatize their claim that the Free Trade Area of the Americas would give a license to multinational corporations to extend damage caused by NAFTA.

At the news conference, Chretien acknowledged that the protesters had an impact on the summit, noting he had organized a "parallel summit" Saturday where protesters' representatives debated senior officials of summit governments, including Robert Zoellick, Bush's top trade official.

"There are some in my country that want to shut down free trade," Bush said at the news conference. "But it's not going to change my opinion about the benefits of free trade."

Asked what Latin American governments could do to help him overcome domestic opposition to free trade, Bush said, "Write your congressman."

Earlier summits in Miami in 1994 and in Santiago, Chile, four years later also embraced sweeping action plans that, in the eyes of many analysts, failed to materialize.

That record, however, did not prevent Bush and his colleagues from declaring they would "spare no effort" in a drive to cut the "extreme" poverty rate in the hemisphere by 50 percent by 2015. The declaration does not indicate how that goal would be achieved.

Bush praised Colombian President Andrés Pastrana as a "firm leader" in the fight to stamp out cocaine cartels in his country. He added the United States is spending $1.3 billion to help in the effort.

Pastrana tried again to persuade the U.S. government to reduce textile tariffs on Andean products destined for the American market, saying, "More than money, we're asking commerce."