Brazil says no to US plan for hemispheric free trade

Brazil says no to U.S. plan for hemispheric free trade

Canadian Press

Thursday, April 21, 2005

SAO PAULO, Brazil (AP) - Clinching a deal for a 34-country free-trade zone that would stretch from Alaska to Argentina is "off the agenda" for Brazil, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said Wednesday. Silva made the comments about the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas to a gathering of labour leaders in the capital Brasilia just days before U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice plans to visit Brazil, the largest economy in South America and largest country in Latin America.

"For two years, FTAA has not been discussed in Brazil, because we took it off the agenda," Silva said, in a text of his remarks released by the presidential press office.

Instead, Brazil has focused on strengthening trade ties among its Latin American neighbours and with the Mercosur trade bloc made up of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay.

The FTAA zone was expected to be among the topics to be discussed during Rice’s visit to Brazil. Negotiators from the United States and Brazil are leading the talks to create the zone, which would be the world’s largest.

But Silva suggested for the first time Wednesday that the FTAA is a low priority for Brazil and Latin America’s largest country is more interested in boosting trade with its neighbours, than it is with the United States.

"How did we take it off the agenda?" Silva asked.

"By strengthening Mercosur, creating the South American community of nations and trying to establish a new standard of relations between South American countries."

The effort to create an FTAA involving every country in the Western Hemisphere, except Cuba, has been stalled for years, with Brazil and the United States far apart on a number of issues - including protection for U.S. farmers and Brazil’s laws covering the protection of intellectual property rights.

Negotiatiors missed an original January 2005 deadline for wrapping up the talks, even under a scaled-down two-tier approach that has been dubbed "FTAA lite" by critics.

Under that approach, developed at a ministerial meeting in Miami in November 2003, all countries would agree to basic trade liberalization. Those wanting full abolition of trade barriers envisioned by a free-trade agreement could do so.

But in November former U.S. trade representative Robert Zoellick said Brazil and the Mercosur countries were putting up stiff resistance on key issues needed to break a deadlock over the formation of the zone.

He warned the Mercosur countries risked being isolated as a group, while the United States signs one-on-one and regional free-trade agreements with a host of other Latin American countries.

In March, acting U.S. trade representative Peter Allgeier and Brazilian negotiator Adhemar Bahadian said some progress had been made and they hoped to schedule a meeting of deputy trade negotiators from all 34 countries involved in the discussions in late April or early May.

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source: Canadian Press