Richard Lawrence - 1( 2 On the other hand, the U.S. call to other nations to pledge not to relax labor and environmental regulations to attract investment are steadfastly resisted by Latin American and Caribbean negotiators.

And there will have to be many compromises just to flesh out the basic ground rules for negotiating market access. Case in point: the U.S. proposes phasing out tariffs in no more than 10 years after the FTAA takes force; Brazil is talking 20 years.Hovering over the negotiations is the fragile political and economic climate

in the so-called Andean countries of Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Venezuela, while Argentina still struggles with recession. With unemployment already high, a slowing global economy could make the FTAA talks yet more difficult.

Even the January 2005 target date for concluding the negotiations spells possible trouble. A U.S. presidential campaign will take place during the final phases of the negotiation. Be on watch for Ross Perot.

And then there's the biggest single key to the whole negotiation - trade promotion negotiating authority for President Bush, without which the U.S. will be unable to conclude an FTAA. Officials had hoped that by now that negotiating authority would clearly be on the way. But it isn't, as Congress remains as split as ever over how, or whether, to link trade with labor and environmental standards.

As long as Bush lacks that negotiating authority, Latin America won't believe he's really serious about an FTAA. How he manages to finesse this issue at Quebec will be watched closely. But he's gotten a tune-up, having already met in recent weeks with a half-dozen heads of state who will be in Quebec.

FTAA supporters hope that he will return to Washington re-energized by the summit and determined to redouble his efforts to secure trade promotion negotiating authority from Congress.

Meanwhile, there is another event this weekend in Quebec City, which might have some impact on Bush's getting that authority. An estimated 25,000 demonstrators will hit the streets, denouncing the FTAA initiative as potentially devastating to the hemisphere's environmental and worker standards. Their goal: to create a negative public perception of the FTAA across the hemisphere and thereby diminish Bush's chances for new trade negotiating authority.

Nonetheless, many U.S. analysts remain optimistic that an FTAA accord will be reached by the stated deadline, on the strength of the argument that freer trade translates into higher economic growth and eventually better general well-being.

And there might just be a sense of family pride at work. In 1990, another president named Bush proposed an 'Enterprise for the Americas,' including hemispheric free trade. What could be sweeter for his son than to follow through and make Dad's dream a reality?

But he'll have to get that trade promotion authority, and fast. Next year is an election year and trade and elections often don't mix.