Leigh Miller for GlobalAtlanta
A Free Trade Area of the Americas is still a future possibility, and Atlanta companies attending a Nov. 8 conference on trade in the Americas can learn how to take advantage of emerging free trade agreements in the hemisphere, according to Regina Vargo.

Ms. Vargo, senior director for global trade for Greenberg Traurig LLP’s Washington law office who was assistant U.S. Trade Representative for the Americas until last spring, is to be a speaker in the upcoming TradeAmericas: Georgia’s Role in the Hemisphere conference at the Metro Atlanta Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 8:30 a.m. — 2 p.m.

The conference, organized by WorldCity, the Miami-based publisher of Georgia TradeNumbers and other annual trade reports, is to feature Ms. Vargo and other speakers discussing free trade and prospects for new business in the hemisphere.

“We still have a vision of free trade throughout the hemisphere. But I don’t think the FTAA talks will be revived in their current form. Much more likely is the stitching together of existing FTAs,” Ms. Vargo told GlobalAtlanta in a telephone interview.

She said that the United States has free trade agreements with almost every Latin American country on the Pacific Coast, and that those countries are beginning to look at how to link their economies to form a trading bloc to compete with Asia.

While the Mercosur countries – Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela – are still the “missing piece” in a unified free trade area in Latin America, Ms. Vargo said it is a “matter of time rather than if” for them to join in a free trade area with other countries in the hemisphere.

Brazilian businesses already want a free trade agreement with the U.S., she said, noting that Brazilian sales to the U.S. have grown 70 percent since 2000. Uruguay is also considering free trade negotiations with the U.S., she added.

“The U.S. has FTAs with countries that represent two-thirds of the economy and population of this hemisphere. We still have to get some of them through Congress, but they are leveling the playing field and resulting in more open trade. Across the board, FTAs make for better business conditions,” she said.

Ms. Vargo noted that most of the agreements in place make 80 percent of U.S. industrial goods and 50 percent of agricultural goods duty-free immediately. Various countries in the hemisphere have average duties of 10-15 percent, so trade agreements give U.S. companies better access to their markets, she added.

FTAs also improve intellectual property protection and the partner countries’ legal system for business disputes, she said.

But companies should watch for pitfalls to doing business in the region, which Ms. Vargo is to discuss during the conference. Also scheduled to speak at the event are Jose Ignacio Gonzalez, executive director of Hemisphere Inc.; Ken Roberts, president and CEO of WorldCity; Ricardo Shelley, director of corporate strategy at Coca Cola Co.; Alberto Padilla, business anchor for CNN En Espanol and Gerald Allison, chairman and co-founder of AJC International Inc.

They will discuss opportunities for Atlanta companies in the hemisphere. Atlanta is well-situated to be a hemispheric trade hub, but Miami is still a trade center for Latin America, Ms. Vargo said.

Ms. Vargo assisted with negotiations for the Central American Free Trade Agreement and agreements with Chile, Peru, Panama, Colombia and Ecuador.

Some of these trade agreements are still being negotiated. She said that Colombia must meet the requirements outlined in the proposed FTA by Monday, Oct. 30, and U.S. Congress must vote on the agreement for it to go into effect.

The Western Hemisphere remains a good place to do business, Ms. Vargo said, noting that the U.S. trades more with countries in this hemisphere than with China.

“It’s not an either-or scenario,” she said about doing business in the Americas or in Asia. “Each region has its attractions. But the playing field might be more level with FTA partners than with China.”

She said there is some concern that China is not fulfilling some of its requirements for joining the World Trade Organization. Bilateral agreements like the U.S.’ FTAs with Latin American countries are easier to enforce, she added.

Cost for the conference is $95 per person. Register at www.worldcityweb.com.