MIAMI – Trade ministers from 34 nations wrapped up the Free Trade Area of the Americas summit here on Nov. 20 with hopes of establishing a tariff-free trade zone for the 800 million people who live in those countries by 2005. World Council of Credit Unions Inc. President Arthur Arnold said the organization supports what would be the world's largest trade zone, encouraged that it will promote growth, especially among the impoverished. "We are pro FTAA, as ultimately it will increase economic growth, create new opportunities for growth, which will enable millions of people to grow," Arnold said. "We need growth if we want to reduce poverty, and if we are serious about closing the gap between the `have more' and the `have less.' " FTAA trade ministers agreed to further consider what a free trade zone will mean for market access, agriculture, investments, intellectual property rights, banking and insurance services, government procurement, subsidies and anti-dumping policies, FTAA dispute settlements and antitrust and competition policies. The countries that participated in the summit were Colombia, Uruguay, Panama, Dominican Republic, the Caribbean, Costa Rica, Argentina, Canada and Peru. WOCCU has member credit unions and affiliates in Canada, the Caribbean, Dominican Republic, Panama and Peru. If proposed, the FTAA would create a $13 trillion free-trade zone by 2005. The new zone would eliminate most barriers to foreign and trade investments, proponents say, reducing production costs and making products more affordable. Critics of FTAA argue that big nations and corporations would reap the benefits of a free trade zone through cheap labor, fewer environmental standards, workers' rights, regulations and laws. Thousands gathered in Miami during the weeklong summit that started on Nov. 17 to protest what implementing FTAA provisions would mean. The FTAA would expand on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the United States, Canada and Mexico.

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