The Summit of the Americas ended Sunday with President Bush and other presidents and prime ministers agreeing to inaugurate the free-trade zone by the end of 2005. They still have fierce differences, though, about the details of the zone, which would unite their $13 trillion economies, eliminate national subsidies and increase competition.
"I'm very optimistic about what took place here," Bush said. "It gives us a great chance to expand the opportunities around our hemisphere knowing that it'll help our own country."
The leaders also agreed that the Free Trade Area of the Americas, or FTAA, will include only democracies. Any country that veers from democracy with a military coup, for example could be kicked out.
Anti-globalization protesters battled with Canadian riot police for two days, hurling bricks and bottles and tearing down parts of a wall built to keep them from the summit, saw their fears confirmed.
The leaders hope the trade blueprint, linking everyone from Buenos Aires to Boston, Valparaiso to Vancouver, will bring their countries the prosperity that eludes most of the world's population. The protesters say it will deepen poverty. But even some protesters conceded that the march of free trade will be almost impossible to halt.
"No one says trade is bad. There must be trade and there must be openness in the Americas," Joe Gunn of the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops said at an alternative conference organized by summit opponents. "But the current model does not help us."
Europe has already gone further than the Americs into a deep union that continues to grow, and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations are toying with the idea of forming an Asian Union that would bring in China, Japan and South Korea.
"We have a choice to make," Bush said. "We can combine in a common market so we can compete in the long term with the Far East and Europe, or we can go on our own. Going on our own is not the right way."
"With this agreement we are going to attach great priority to the fight against poverty, the inclusion of each family in the country's development, the training of human capital and carrying out an educational and technological revolution in our countries," Mexican President Vicente Fox said.
Because of the leaders' concessions, and the media attention to the demonstrations, many protesters felt triumphant.
"Before Quebec, few Americans knew about George Bush's plans to create the FTAA," said Robert Cox, president of the Sierra Club. "After Quebec, millions know that the proposed FTAA imperils safeguards for the environment and working people in the United States and throughout the Americas."
While tens of thousands of protesters marched through Quebec's historic streets peacefully, thousands of others attacked policlines, taunting officers and attacking the 2.3-mile fence ringing the summit site. In all, more than 400 people were arrested and at least 46 police officers and 57 demonstrators were injured, none seriously.
Hundreds of negotiators for the 34 countries now have four years to complete the 458-page agreement, which consists mostly of material still in debate. Filling in the blanks will require painful concessions for all nations involved.
But the thumbs-up and the smile on Bush's face as he walked away from the podium Sunday indicated that he had gotten what he wanted.
"There is no question in my mind that we have challenges ahead," he said. "Also, there is no question that we can meet those challenges."
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