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FTAA unlikely to become reality soon, Mexico says

Daily Yomiuri, Japan

FTAA unlikely to become reality soon, Mexico says

Koya Ozeki, Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

12 April 2007

Mexican Economy Secretary Eduardo Sojo said the U.S.-led Free Trade Area of the Americas scheme is likely to remain stalled in the foreseeable future as negotiations between the United States and the leftist-dominated South America on the issue have been deadlocked for the past few years.

"It makes no sense to proceed at this point in time," Sojo said in an interview at the Mexican Embassy in Tokyo on Tuesday. Sojo is visiting Japan to commemorate the second anniversary of the enforcement of the Japan-Mexico Economic Partnership Agreement.

While expressing the Mexican government’s continued support for the FTAA scheme, Sojo said, "Because there is no consensus in the region at this point, the best strategy [for Mexico] is to continue with bilateral agreements."

Mexico has concluded bilateral free trade agreements with numerous countries in and outside Central and South America, and is continuing to work on signing new accords with Peru, Panama and other nations.

The FTAA, which envisions the economic integration of the entire American continents, was proposed by the United States under the Bill Clinton administration in 1994. If realized, it would create the world’s largest economic bloc, grouping 850 million people.

The scheme hit an impasse in 2005, however, after a bitter round of talks over liberalization of agricultural markets between the United States and Brazil that failed to reach an accord.

Sojo also was cautious in discussing the possibility of Mexico joining Mercosur—the customs union set up by five South American countries, including Brazil and Venezuela, to counter the U.S.-led FTAA proposal.

Drawing a line differentiating Mexico from the leftist regimes that have been gaining ground in the region against the backdrop of the surge in energy prices, and referring to the high tariffs that Mercosur imposes on imports from outside the region, Sojo said, "Given the way the tariffs are now in Mercosur, we cannot be a full member of the group."

On the EPA with Japan—Mexico’s only free trade pact in Asia—Sojo stressed that it has "benefited Mexico as well as Japan," as shown in the nearly 30 percent growth of Mexican exports entering the Japanese market since it came into effect two years ago.