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Leaders fail to agree on free trade talks

Associated Press

Update 7: Leaders Fail to Agree on Free Trade Talks


Leaders debating whether to revitalize talks on a free trade zone spanning the Americas ended their two-day meeting Saturday without an agreement.

A top negotiator told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity that the summit’s declaration would state two opposing views: one favoring the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, and another saying discussions should wait until after World Trade Organization talks in December.

The negotiator asked not to be identified because the declaration had not yet been publicly announced.

Mexico, the United States and 27 other nations wanted to set an April deadline for talks, but that was opposed by Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay and Venezuela.

The United States says the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, stretching from Canada to Chile, would open up new markets for Americans and bring wealth and jobs to Latin America.

President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice attended the summit but left on Air Force One as discussions went past the scheduled deadline. Thomas Shannon, U.S. assistant secretary of state for Western Hemisphere affairs, was left in charge of negotiations for Washington.

The zone’s main opponent, Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, says it will enslave Latin American workers. He came to the summit vowing to "bury FTAA."

Brazil - a key regional player with Latin America’s largest economy - hedged at setting a firm date for talks because it wants to focus for now on ongoing WTO talks aimed at cutting tariffs around the world and boosting the global economy.

"Anything we do now, before the WTO meeting, could confuse the facts and we’d be creating an impediment to the WTO," Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva told reporters on the sidelines of the meeting at Argentina’s most renowned summer resort.

Mar del Plata was calm Saturday after protesters opposed to Bush’s presence the FTAA clashed in street battles with riot police, burning and ransacking businesses just 10 blocks from the theater where the summit opened.

Protests have become commonplace at summits, especially those dealing with free trade and U.S. policies. But Friday’s violence was on a much smaller scale than clashes in 2001 during the Americas Summit in Canada, when police detained 400 people and scores were injured.

 source: AP