Bush says Latam free-trade idea stalled for now
By Steve Holland
Wednesday, November 2, 2005; 8:04 AM
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President George W. Bush said ahead of the 34-nation Summit of the Americas in Argentina that his proposal for a sweeping free-trade zone in the hemisphere has stalled and it is time to focus on a global trade agreement cutting agricultural subsidies.
Speaking to a group of journalists before his visit to Argentina, Brazil and Panama, Bush said he had not changed his mind about the need for a Free Trade Agreement of the Americas, but that for now the global trade talks known as the Doha round had taken precedence.
The free trade agreement was originally envisioned to be created this year but has been slowed by disputes between the United States and Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela.
"The FTAA has stalled, I agree," Bush said on Tuesday. "On the other hand, at this point in time, the Doha round really trumps the FTAA as a priority, because the Doha round not only involves our neighborhood, it involves the whole world."
Bush acknowledged the stalling of the hemispheric trade zone at a time when summit negotiators have been discussing whether to include a commitment to restart talks on the agreement in 2006.
Bush has proposed ending U.S. subsidies for American agricultural products if other countries involved in the world trade talks will do the same.
So far progress has been slow. The European Union, the United States, Brazil, India and several other countries are trying to draft a plan to cut farm subsidies and tariffs in preparation for a World Trade Organization meeting in Hong Kong in December.
BENEFITS OF TRADE
Bush, who leaves on Thursday for the Mar del Plata summit, spoke to journalists representing news organizations from Argentina, Brazil and Panama, all countries that he said he has never visited.
He goes at a time when he has fewer allies in a region that largely opposed the Iraq war and perceives a lack of interest from Washington.
He said he would stress the benefits of trade and democracy, while recognizing not everybody agreed with decisions he had made.
"The truth of the matter is there’s people who have disagreed with the decisions I’ve made all over the world. And I understand that’s what happens when you make decisions," Bush said.
He added: "I don’t think good relations necessarily mean somebody has to agree with America 100 percent of the time ... Good relations is mutual respect and a desire to work together to solve common problems."
As for Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who Washington sees as an irritant in the region, Bush sounded skeptical of an idea said to have been floated by Chavez that oil-rich Venezuela should have an electricity-producing nuclear power plant.
The United States is already at odds with North Korea and Iran over their nuclear programs.
"I guess if I were a taxpayer in Venezuela I would wonder about the energy supply that Venezuela has, but maybe it makes sense," Bush said, adding that he would talk to Argentine President Nestor Kirchner about it if necessary.