"The Bush Administration has made bilateral and regional free-trade agreements (FTAs) more important elements of U.S. trade policy, a strategy known as 'competitive liberalization.' This strategy is designed to push forward trade liberalization simultaneously on bilateral, regional and multilateral fronts. It is meant to spur trade negotiations by liberalizing trade with countries willing to join FTAs, and to pressure other countries to negotiate multilaterally. Some argue, however, that the accent on regional and bilateral negotiations undermines the multilateral forum and increases the risk of trade diversion away from competitive countries not in the trade bloc. The broadest trade initiative being negotiated during the 108th Congress is the multilateral trade negotiations in the World Trade Organization (WTO). In November 2001, trade ministers from 142 WTO member countries agreed to launch a new round of trade talks covering market access, WTO institutional rules, and developing-country issues. A framework agreement on future negotiations was concluded in Geneva on August 1, 2004, but a new deadline must be set for the talks. Another major initiative is the Free Trade Area of the Americas. In April 1998, 34 Western Hemisphere nations formally initiated negotiations on tariffs and nontariff trade barriers in the hemisphere. Negotiators have released drafts of an agreement-in-progress. Trade ministers met in Miami in November 2003 and announced a blueprint for negotiations, but the talks have now stalled."
CRS Issue Brief for Congress, IB10123
U.S. Department of State: http://fpc.state.gov/