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Release: April 1, 2002

Authorities consider impact of the Free Trade Area of the Americas

Some 30 national and international academic authorities on law, economics, labor, and human rights will meet at the University of Iowa College of Law April 5-7 for a critical discussion of the democratic and legal impact of the Free Trade Area of the Americas Agreement (FTAA) on the Western Hemisphere.

The conference is titled "Western Hemispheric Integration, Democracy and the Rule of Law," and runs from 3 p.m.on Friday to 5 p.m. on Saturday at the College of Law, which is located on Byington and Melrose in Iowa City. On Sunday, conference presenters will meet in closed session to prepare the conference proceedings, which will be disseminated widely.

The ongoing negotiations of the FTAA represent the most ambitious economic integration project to date. They are aimed at creating a free trade area that covers, geographically, almost one-third of the globe and extends from the Arctic Ocean to Tierra del Fuego, from Easter Island to Nova Scotia, and from Hawaii to Recife. By some conservative estimates, the FTAA may well have, when implemented in 2005, a population exceeding 850 million people with an annual trade volume of $13 trillion (U.S. dollars) in goods and services.

In comparison, on its effective date, the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) had a population of 365 million and a combined Gross National Product (GNP) of $6.5 trillion (USD). In other words, the FTAA would begin with 250 percent of the population of NAFTA and double its GNP. The greatest challenge faced by negotiators is their mandate to create an agreement that is equitable and fair for all 34 members. Experts note that those members are at widely different stages of development and include the largest and some of the smallest economies in the world.

While formal negotiations for the FTAA were launched in 1998, the concept was formally unveiled in 1994 at the First Summit of the Americas in Miami. The FTAA is the culmination of a series of integration initiatives across the Americas that can be traced back to the early and mid-nineteenth century.

Professor Harold Rocha, UI faculty fellow and faculty chair of this conference, says the main theme of the conference is that the FTAA should be viewed through a prism that goes beyond economic analysis. He notes that this is an economic integration agreement with concrete political, social, legal, theoretical, and human dimensions, which often tend to be left out of discourse in and out of the academy. He notes that some of the discussions will examine, for example, the intersection between the Enron collapse and the fiscal crisis of Argentina, and how that might influence the ongoing negotiations for the FTAA. Other discussions will center on the role of civil society in hemispheric integration, law reform and law enforcement, domestic violence, labor and the environment, and the rights of indigenous groups in the hemisphere.

Prof. Claudio Grossman, Dean of the Washington College of Law at American University, will give the keynote address on Friday afternoon. Dean Grossman is eminent in international legal circles for his work on human rights. Other noted speakers include Prof. Alexander Somek of the University of Vienna; Prof. Guillermo Cabanellas de las Cuevas, from the University of Buenos Aires; Dr. Richard Martin from the U.S. Agency for International Development in Peru; Prof. Maria Elena Mansilla y Mejia from the National Autonomous University in Mexico City; Prof. Joseph Thome, from the University of Wisconsin; Dr. Stahis Panagides from the Esquel Group Foundation; Prof. Howard Wachtel from American University; Prof. David Felix from Washington University in St. Louis; and Dr. Mark Weisbrot from the Center for Economic Policy Research in Washington D.C. In addition, several UI faculty members from a wide range of departments including political science, anthropology, economics, sociology, and the College of Law will participate. The conference is co-sponsored by the UI College of Law, the Journal on Transnational Law and Contemporary Problems, the International Law Society, ALIANZA, AALSA, the National Lawyers Guild, UI Student Government, and UI International Programs.

U.S. Representative Jim Leach will address the conference at noon on Saturday. The conference is co-sponsored by the UI College of Law, the Journal on Transnational Law and Contemporary Problems, the International Law Society, AALSA, ALIANZA, the National Lawyers' Guild, UI Student Government, and UI International Programs. Detailed program information about the conference can be found at Rocha can be reached by e-mail at, or by phone at (319) 335-8028.