Now more than ever international trade agreement negotiations and more
specifically negotiations leading to the creation of the Free Trade Area
of the Americas require the participation and input of parliamentarians.
This article looks at how the Parliamentary Confederation of the Americas
is working toward enabling all parliamentarians on the American continents
to work in concert on the process of hemispheric integration.
The Parliamentary Confederation of the Americas (COPA) was created in
response to the first Summit of Heads of State and Government of the Americas,
held in Miami in 1994, during which the project of creating a Free Trade
Area of the Americas (FTAA) for 2005 and rebuilding inter-American cooperation
on a new foundation was first introduced.
The prospect of establishing the FTAA and carrying out the Summit action
plans initiated an integration process with economic, political, social,
environmental and cultural ramifications, and one that directly concerns
parliamentarians in their role as legislators and representatives of the
COPA was officially founded in September 1997 when 400 parliamentarians
from 28 countries of the Americas convened in Québec. Among their number
were several representatives from the two houses of the Parliament of Canada,
as well as from the provinces and two of the territories. Parliamentarians
agreed on the need to create a representative, independent and pluralistic
forum in which they could express their points of view and discuss available
means of action to face the new hemispheric realities. COPA has since held
four other General Assemblies and set up permanent thematic working committees
and the Network of Women Parliamentarians of the Americas.
In order to give a voice to all the parliamentarians of the Americas, COPA,
like the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the Assemblée Parlementaire
de la Francophonie, brings together parliaments from unitary, federal and
federated States. COPA also allows the participation of regional parliaments
such as the Andean Parliament, and interparliamentary organizations of
the Americas such as the National Conference of State Legislatures of the
The Significance of the FTAA for Parliamentarians
Parliamentarians must definitely become more involved in the FTAA negotiation
process. Parliamentarians association with the economic integration process
gives it increased transparency and legitimacy, thus mitigating the democratic
deficit often experienced in connection with international trade negotiations.
Furthermore, many parliamentarians from all parts of the Americas are qualified
for such responsibilities through their previous training and professional
duties as well as years of work on parliamentary committees and within
international interparliamentary organizations.
Since free-trade agreements have an impact in the areas of jurisdiction
belonging to federated States, the reasons brought forward for promoting
participation in trade negotiations do not apply only to parliamentarians
on the national or federal level. COPA is thus a most suitable forum allowing
parliamentarians from the federated States to present their perspectives
on international trade negotiations.
The potential impact of the FTAA on the populations of the Americas and
on the ability of parliamentarians to legislate in their respective areas
of jurisdiction has been a concern of the members of COPA since it was
founded. Over the years, they have been taking on a more constructive role
in the negotiations involved in creating this trade agreement.
Consequently, during a meeting of COPAs Executive Committee in Quebec
coinciding with the Third Summit of the Americas in April 2001, the parliamentarians
committed themselves to playing a more active role in the Summit process,
specifically in the FTAA negotiations, and to taking the necessary measures
to inform and consult their populations about the stakes involved.
In November 2001, COPA created a framework to study the various aspects
of the economic integration project by setting up six permanent thematic
working committees, including the Committee on the economy, trade, labour
and trading blocks. The latter met in August 2003 in Quito, Ecuador, and
the participants adopted a recommendation calling on COPA to prepare an
attendance and active participation strategy for parliaments with respect
to international FTAA negotiation forums.
During the fifth General Assembly, held in Caracas in November 2003, the
form such participation would take was more specifically defined. Thus,
by means of a resolution, the parliamentarians of COPA expressed their
will to be directly associated with the FTAA negotiation process and their
desire to participate in the proceedings of the Tripartite Committee, the
consultation body composed of the Organization of American States, the
Inter-American Development Bank and the Economic Commission for Latin America
and the Caribbean.
As early as February 4, 2004, at a COPA meeting at Puebla, Mexico, the
parliamentarians were able to establish contacts with the FTAA Trade Negotiations
Committee, which was meeting at the same time, by meeting negotiators and
sharing their concerns with them.
Other steps in the same direction have included discussions on FTAA-related
themes during each of the General Assemblies and the proceedings of the
permanent thematic working committees. For example, during the proceedings
of the last General Assembly of COPA at Caracas in November 2003, the parliamentarians
studied the impact of the FTAA on public education and healthcare systems,
peace and public security as well as the environment. Proceedings of the
Network of Women Parliamentarians of the Americas led to the adoption of
a recommendation with respect to the impact of the future Free Trade Area
of the Americas on women. In the recommendation, the participants agreed
in particular to promote the active participation of women in the political
and economic spheres of influence in order to guarantee greater consideration
of their concerns in the FTAA negotiation process.
The FTAA question has thus been a central focus of COPAs activities since
its inception. Parliamentarians have a role to play in the integration
process, and governments stand to benefit from their opinions and their
legitimate desire to participate. Other economic integration processes
have already demonstrated the importance of the involvement of parliamentarians.
For instance, in the European context, which stands out in particular,
the European Trade Commissioner is required to appear several times during
the year before the members of the European Parliament to answer questions
and take note of their opinions and expectations. There is also the example
of the Mercosur1 Joint Parliamentary Commission, which is one of the consultation
bodies provided for in the constitutive treaty of the South American integration
process. Mention should also be made of the steps taken by the European
Parliament and the Inter-Parliamentary Union since 2001 to give the World
Trade Organization a parliamentary dimension.
I invite Canadian parliamentarians to widely participate, with our parliamentary
colleagues from all of the Americas, in the work of COPA to continue building
on the foundation already in place and to claim our role as guardians of
the interests of our fellow citizens in the context of the hemispheric
economic integration process.
1. The Common Market of the South (known under the Spanish acronym MERCOSUR)
groups together Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. Chile and Bolivia
have been associate members since 1996.