Fate rests on whether U.S. congress gives Dubya the power to make a deal. Fortunately for those who would like to keep the western hemisphere an FTAA-free zone, the pact has been doing a pretty good job of coming apart all on its own. For all the gabbing Fast-track power would enable the new U.S. leader to put a proposed deal before Congress for a straight up-or-down vote. Without that power, any deal agreed to could be reopened and rewritten by members of Congress, "killing it with a thousand arrows," says Sam Boutziouvis of the Business Council on National Issues, which is enthusiastically in favour of our government's efforts to bring us the mother of all trade deals but somewhat doubtful that it will become a reality by the 2005 deadline.
For the moment, Canuck officials are staying cool, trying to appear chipper without fuelling unrealistic expectations. "The discussions are continuing," says spokesperson Nathalie Dube in the trade department in Ottawa.
"There's no particular breakthrough at this point in time."
And Denis Tessier, who's in charge of arrangements in Quebec City, gently corrects me when I refer to the FTAA as the main item on the agenda in April. "The economic side, which includes the FTAA, will be one part of this big summit," he says. "But it's not the number-one item on the agenda. There will be a whole morning devoted to democracy, and they will talk about human potential -- cultural relations, education, health and indigenous people."
Bill Dymond, Canada's lead negotiator at the discussions on the doomed Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), figures all that will come out of Quebec on the FTAA are more words.
"My impression is that everything is on hold until they figure out what Bush is going to do. What kind of fast-track authority is he going to seek, and will he obtain it?
"What I expect you'll see in Quebec is an endorsement, some kind of fuzzy commitment to the goal. Look for the adjectives and the adverbs: "We warmly endorse, we endorse with enthusiasm.' But there'll be no agreement on the table."
Sounds like a big bureaucratic yakfest, more boring than frightening. Why worry?
Well, to begin with, the people who get together at these seemingly pointless sessions are doing a lot more than talk therapy. True, there's no agreement around the corner, but the suits getting together to chew the fat in Quebec City are the same ones who go to those meetings of the much-loathed World Trade Organization and other get-togethers aimed at forging the new capitalism.
As professor Stephen Clarkson of U of T says, "They're all a brotherhood. Anything that will cut back government power and increase investment is by definition good."