Hemisphere Inc., the committee spearheading Atlanta‘s bid for the Free Trade Area of the Americas secretariat, remains optimistic that an FTAA will become a reality by 2005, despite watered-down negotiations at the recent FTAA ministerial in Miami that avoided such tough issues as agricultural subsidies, said Jose Ignacio Gonzales, the organization’s executive director.

“Trade ministers from the FTAA countries are still committed to reaching an FTAA agreement by Jan. 1, 2005, and we are pushing ahead with our efforts to promote Atlanta for the FTAA headquarters,” he told GlobalFax in an interview last week.

He indicated that he plans to travel to the Caribbean and Colombia to meet with government officials before the end of the year.

During the Atlanta delegation’s time in Miami, he added, the group received positive feedback from government and business leaders from the 34 FTAA countries to which they promoted Atlanta’s strengths as a transportation, logistics and corporate hub.

The group also highlighted Atlanta as a center for health and civil rights with the location here of CARE, which works on health issues worldwide, and the King Center, which offers education on civil rights.        

Reflecting on the negotiations at the recent ministerial, Mr. Gonzales praised new concessions in the FTAA agreement that allow smaller countries to adopt the basic framework of the FTAA without having to adhere to specific trade regulations that could hurt a developing economy.

David Bruce, a professor of Latin American studies at Georgia State University and a member of the Atlanta ministerial delegation, also praised the recent negotiations in view of the historical progress made on an FTAA over the last decade.

“It is now legitimate to talk openly about a possible agreement, which would have been unthinkable in 1994 when negotiations first began,” he said.

Dr. Bruce further lauded ministerial organizers for their handling of FTAA opposition groups, who were encouraged to submit their writings or comments on specific topics related to the negotiations on the official FTAA Web site, which was translated into English, French, Portuguese and Spanish.

“This kind of discussion and process did not exist during negotiations for the North American Free Trade Agreement,” he said.

For more information, contact Mr. Gonzales by email at jgonzales@atlantagateway.org or Dr. Bruce by email at dbruce@gsu.edu