The Bush administration reported no breakthroughs Saturday in informal discussions aimed at trying to resolve deep differences between the US and Brazil over the scope of a hemisphere-wide free trade agreement.
US Trade Representative Robert Zoellick and trade ministers from 15 other nations wrapped up two days of talks in the Washington area on the creation of a Free Trade Area of the Americas. The FTAA, which would span the Western Hemisphere and cover 34 countries, is a key economic goal of the Bush administration.
The meetings come about a week before a much larger gathering of trade ministers in Miami, which some fear could end in failure.
At the conclusion of Saturday's talks, a senior US trade official, who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity, did not report any areas where the differences between the US and Brazil had been narrowed.
However, the official said that the discussions had been useful in helping the trade ministers understand more fully the positions of the other countries involved in the effort.
Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim described Saturday's meeting as "positive."
He said the US and Brazil both presented some ideas that could be the basis for continuing the negotiations beyond Miami.
Brazil had pressed the US to negotiate over agriculture subsidies and anti-dumping tariffs -- something the US has refused to do. In turn, Brazil has threatened to table discussion of investment and intellectual property rights -- something of great interest to US companies.
Asked if he felt that the Miami meeting, scheduled for the week of Nov. 17, could succeed, the US official said negotiators have their work cut out for them.
"It is going to be a challenge," he said. "But I feel certainly better about it today than I did two days ago because I think that we got some useful insight in this meeting."
The US official refused to confirm that one idea being floated is that if countries seek to limit the areas covered by a free trade agreement, then they would not receive the full benefits of the pact.
"We're pushing to get as comprehensive an agreement as possible, and so I think it's probably premature to get into speculation about that kind of degree of balancing," the official said.