Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Ja: Everybody wants the FTAA action

PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad (AP) - Panama's deputy foreign affairs minister yesterday took her country's bid to become the headquarters of a hemispheric free trade zone to Trinidad, a rival in the heated competition.

Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Nivia Castrellon met with business groups and Trinidad's trade and foreign ministers to talk about Panama's bid to host the 34-nation Free Trade Area of the Americas. She planned further meetings with business groups today and will host a lunch before returning tomorrow, said Aly Huerta, Panama's consul in Trinidad.

It was unclear what Panama was seeking to gain from the visit since Trinidad & Tobago is also in the running. Officials from Panama's embassy declined comment.

The FTAA, which will include countries in the hemisphere except Cuba, was expected to go into effect next year, but wide differences remain between the United States and Brazil on agriculture subsidies. Small countries are also concerned that their economies could be overwhelmed by larger industrialised nations as trade barriers fall.

Hosting the headquarters will mean prestige, investment and jobs for the host city.

Besides Panama City and Port-of-Spain in Trinidad, other sites bidding are Cancun and Puebla in Mexico; Chicago, Colorado Springs, Galveston, and Houston in the United States; and San Juan in the US territory of Puerto Rico.

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