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NAFTA Commission Announces New Transparency Measures

MONTREAL -- U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick met with his Canadian and Mexican counterparts at the annual meeting of the NAFTA Free Trade Commission. Canadian Minister for International Trade Pierre S. Pettigrew hosted the meeting in Montreal, also attended by Mexican Secretary of the Economy Fernando Canales.

"The last ten years have demonstrated that the NAFTA has generated real and tangible benefits to all three countries. Since 1994, trilateral trade among the NAFTA partners has more than doubled, to over $621 billion, and the expansion in trade has generated benefits to workers, farmers, consumers, and manufacturers," Zoellick said.

As part of the ongoing commitment to make the NAFTA more responsive to the needs of the public, the Commission produced two statements to enhance the transparency and efficiency of NAFTA’s investor-state arbitration (Chapter 11 of the NAFTA Agreement):

-- an affirmation of the authority of investor-state tribunals to accept written submissions (amicus curiae briefs) by non-disputing parties, coupled with recommended procedures for tribunals on the handling of such submissions; and

-- endorsement of a standard form for the Notices of Intent to initiate arbitration that disputing investors are required to submit under Article 1119 of the NAFTA.

"We are pleased that we have been able to take further steps to enhance the public participation and understanding of the dispute settlement process," Ambassador Zoellick said. Separately, the United States and Canada affirmed that they will consent to opening to the public hearings in Chapter 11 disputes to which either is a party, and to request the consent of disputing investors to such open hearings. The United States and Canada will continue to work with Mexico on this matter.

The Commission agreed to commence a study of the most favored nation tariffs of the three countries, in order to determine if harmonizing these tariffs could further promote trade by reducing transaction costs. The Commission also agreed to pursue further liberalization of the rules of origin. Since nearly all tariffs between the Parties have been eliminated, reducing the costs associated with trade, such as those associated with compliance with the rules of origin, will generate additional benefits for exporters.

Ministers welcomed the creation of the North American Steel Trade Committee, which will foster increased cooperation among the partners’ industries on international steel policy matters. The committee will meet for the first time on November 21 in Mexico.

Ministers discussed the impending liberalization of international textile and apparel trade at the end of 2004 and steps that could be taken to prepare our industries for an increasingly competitive global market. The Commission asked Deputies to explore initiatives to improve North American competitiveness, including encouraging greater integration among NAFTA countries and with our other free trade agreement partners in the hemisphere, notably with significant trade and partnership arrangements within our industries in Central America. The Commission asked Deputies to explore cooperative efforts in areas such as customs and transshipment rules.

The NAFTA Free Trade Commission is composed of the trade ministers from each of the NAFTA countries. It has overall responsibility for the operation of the Agreement. The full text of the Joint Statement as well as the new informational brochure, "NAFTA, A Decade of Strengthening a Dynamic Relationship," can be found at The United States will host the next meeting of the Commission in 2004.