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Bolivia offers compromise at trade summit

Houston Chronicle

Bolivia Offers Compromise at Trade Summit

By Dan Keane, Associated Press Writer

14 June 2007

TARIJA, Bolivia - Bolivia’s willingness to bend its anti-globalization stance allowed Andean leaders work out a common stand on a trade deal with the European Union at a summit here Thursday.

Bolivia’s leftist President Evo Morales has repeatedly criticized the open-trade positions of richer neighbors Colombia and Peru, which have signed separate free trade deals with the United States.

But the host of the Community of Andean Nations summit agreed not to impose his agenda on his neighbors so that the bloc _ which also includes Ecuador _ can be united in its negotiations with the Europeans. Chile is an associate member of the group.

As a compromise, the leaders have agreed to leave left-leaning Ecuador and Bolivia room to shape the terms of the deal to better suit their less-developed economies.

"Bolivia’s effort to make its position more flexible is a brotherly gesture demonstrating a desire for integration, one the other countries are thankful for," said Peruvian President Alan Garcia on arrival at the Tarija airport.

Morales says he is worried that the trade deal might open the way to the sale of public services to European companies. His own rise to power followed large protests against such sales in Bolivia.

He is also wary that a free trade pact might allow foreign companies to patent the Andean region’s flora and fauna for use in pharmaceutical products.

"We cannot permit life to become just merchandise," Morales said as the summit opened. "We cannot permit life to be privatized."

Morales’ Venezuelan ally, President Hugo Chavez, pulled his country out of the Andean group in protest after Peru and Colombia signed their deals with the U.S.

But Bolivia, South America’s poorest country, lacks Venezuela’s vast oil wealth and finds it harder to risk missing out on a potentially lucrative European trade deal.

On Wednesday, the group’s secretary general, Freddy Ehlers, said the agreement with the EU will be broader than the agreements Peru and Colombia have with the United States.

"It’s a more complete integration," he said. "It’s not only commercial, it’s also about political, social and technical cooperation with Europe."

Following guidance from the presidents, officials from the four countries will meet in the next 10 days to organize for the negotiations, which could last three years, Ehlers said.

EU trade with the Andean Group countries reached about US$16 billion (euro12 billion) last year.