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Commentary | PERSPECTIVE ON THE SUMMIT OF THE AMERICAS

U.S., Brazil Must Get With the Program

Congress' refusal to grant Clinton 'fast track' authority belies U.S. commitment to hemospheric cooperation.

April 17, 1998|RICHARD FEINBERG and ROBIN ROSENBERG | Richard Feinberg is a professor at the Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies at UC San Diego. Robin Rosenberg is deputy director of the North-South Center at the University of Miami. They are project codirectors of the Leadership Council for Inter-American Summitry

As we witnessed again in his Africa trip, President Clinton is accomplished at launching new diplomatic initiatives. But as with marriage, the real test comes with time. Once the cameras are gone, do the new partners work together to transform talk into action?

One test of American diplomacy will occur this weekend, when President Clinton joins 33 other hemispheric leaders at the second Summit of the Americas in Santiago, Chile.

In December 1994, Clinton hosted the first Summit of the Americas in Miami. There, the 34 democratically elected leaders of the Western Hemisphere reached agreement on an ambitious post-Cold War agenda for cooperation on 23 major initiatives with 150 action items. Key accords included pledges to defend democracy collectively, improve access to health and education for minorities and the poor, protect the urban environment and, most dramatically, build a free trade area of the Americas from Alaska to Argentina.

Have these promises become realities? To find out, the Leadership Council for Inter-American Summitry, an independent nonpartisan initiative, surveyed government efforts. The council found that progress on key Miami initiatives was, on average, "modest."

There are a number of successes. For example, the collective defense of democracy in Paraguay in April 1996 may be attributed, in part, to the Miami summit's negation of the authoritarian option. To improve democratic governance, the hemisphere successfully concluded negotiations on the world's first regional anti-corruption convention. The hemisphere is on track to eliminate lead, a clear environmental health hazard, from gasoline by 2000.

Governments have worked to lay the foundations for the FTAA. Nevertheless, for their separate political reasons, the two largest economies--the United States and Brazil--prefer for negotiations to proceed slowly. Indeed, the refusal of the U.S. House of Representatives to grant Clinton "fast track" trade authority has raised questions about the U.S. commitment to open markets.

Many of the Miami action items have seen even less movement than the trade initiative:

* Implementing agencies have lacked clear guidelines. Too often, measurable goals, timetables and priorities have been absent.

* Leaders have failed to allocate sufficient technical and financial resources for some initiatives, particularly in the social and environmental areas.

* Monitoring mechanisms have been weak to nonexistent.

In Santiago, the test will be whether governments make the necessary mid-course corrections. Can leaders exert discipline to arrive at an achievable number of clear, concrete promises? Specifically, the council has recommended a number of initiatives for the Santiago summit that meet this test:

* Formation of a commission to spur implementation of the Convention Against Corruption, one of the Miami summit's greatest successes.

* Establishment of measurable standards and quantifiable indicators for basic skills and assignment of resources to realize the Miami commitment to ensure, by 2010, universal access to quality primary education.

* To avoid spread of the Asian financial crisis, scheduling of meetings by financial ministers to monitor national macroeconomic policies and international economic trends.

* Building of a strong secretariat capable of monitoring implementation of summit promises.

Most important, Santiago must credibly reaffirm the commitment to hemispheric trade integration. The council proposed accelerating to 2002 completion of negotiations as a strong signal to shock politicians in the U.S. and Brazil into joining the bandwagon. Short of this, leaders in Santiago should launch negotiations now, reaffirming their pledge to make significant progress by 2000.

Santiago may not be as dramatic as sub-Saharan Africa, but it could be the moment when Clinton and other leaders demonstrate that they are wise enough to build on the initial successes of Miami and courageous enough to correct its early errors. If they meet this test, Santiago could set an example for the world.

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