FTAA deal not intended to be released

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Tuesday, May 1, 2001

Pettigrew says FTAA draft were never to be released By BRUCE CHEADLE-- The Canadian Press

OTTAWA (CP)Translation difficulties were not the only reason a draft text of the Free Trade Area of the Americas wasn't released before last month's summit in Quebec City, Trade Minister Pierre Pettigrew acknowledged Tuesday.

In fact, Pettigrew told a business luncheon audience, a deal worked out by trade ministers in Argentina in early April specified that the draft was only to be released after the Summit of the Americas.

The only two limitations that ministers put to them in Buenos Aires was having the translations and putting it after the Quebec City summit, Pettigrew said in reply to a question about when the text would be made public.

Those two conditions are met so it could be any day now.

Pettigrew has claimed credit for pushing for the release of the draft text. After the critical meeting in Buenos Aires on April 7-8, Pettigrew said the only thing holding up the release was translating the text into Portuguese and French in addition to English and Spanish.

If it can be done before the summit, I'll be happy, Pettigrew said on April 9.

Critics accused the trade ministers of stalling before the April 20-22 summit in Quebec, where an estimated 20,000 protesters rallied against various aspects of the trade negotiations.

It confirms our suspicion there was a deliberate attempt to not release the text under any conditions before Quebec City, NDP House leader Bill Blaikie said Tuesday.

More troubling, said Blaikie, is that Pettigrew was deliberately misleading us when he pretended that he'd love for us all to have the text before the summit but he couldn't because they couldn't get it translated in time.

Asked about the discrepancy, Pettigrew insisted he never hid the timing condition.

"No, no, no. I said both, all the time," Pettigrew said as he left the Commons later Tuesday.

The thinking presented by one country in Buenos Aires, he said, was: "Let's not rush into it because this is so new that we must make sure we don't make things in a rush, that we take time to present them appropriately, we think it would be better that it be done after the Quebec City summit."

Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians said the admission confirms and further fans the suspicions of those who worry about trade deals negotiated behind closed doors.

"Now we find out, as we always believed, that there were things being agreed to that we were never privy to," said Barlow.

And where the hell is that thing? . . . It makes us worry that they're actually putting together a user-friendly precis of what they want us to see, a politically friendly version, and not the real McCoy.

"I totally don't trust this man."

Pettigrew also told the receptive luncheon audience of business leaders and diplomats that Canada had another banner trade year in 2000.

Exports rose 15 per cent and now comprise 45 per cent of Canada's gross domestic product, he said. The economy hit the trillion-dollar mark and had its highest rate of growth in 12 years.

And despite the reliance on the U.S., by far Canada's largest trading partner, Canadian trade has not been seriously hurt by the U.S. economic downturn in the first three months of this year, Pettigrew said.

"The numbers still hold strong," he said.

-- Rachel Gibson (rgibson@hotmail.com), May 01, 2001

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