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Tue, Nov 18, 2003 - Page 12 News List

Miami talks immediately hit obstacle

TARIFF REDUCTION Trade officials from Canada and Chile disapprove of the US and Brazil's agreement to limit the scope of a Free Trade Area of the Americas


Talks here intended to produce a tariff-reducing agreement for 34 countries in the Western Hemi-sphere may have already hit a bump: Officials from Canada, Chile and several other nations disapprove of an agreement reached between the US and Brazil to limit the scope of any deal, negotiators said Sunday.

Diplomats meeting here said they were hoping to produce a document early this week that would allow trade ministers from throughout the Americas and the Caribbean to agree on the basic premise of advancing discussions toward creating a Free Trade Area of the Americas by early 2005, enabling them to remain on their original schedule.

But the deal developed over the past several weeks between the US and Brazil precluded any resolution on difficult issues like agricultural subsidies, patent protection and government procurement contracts.

The deal apparently did not sit well with negotiators from elsewhere in the hemisphere.

Officials from Canada, Chile and several other nations met on Sunday to attempt to salvage the original spirit of the negotiations, which began in 1994 with the goal of producing rules valid throughout the Americas on a host of issues.

Such an outcome, which would essentially extend the framework similar to that of the North American Free Trade Agreement to the rest of the hemisphere, does not appear likely.

Several negotiators privately acknowledged that talks throughout the next year or so, including negotiations this week in Miami, were likely to result in the formation of an "FTAA a la carte," or "FTAA Light," in the parlance of Brazilian officials, in which countries pick and choose from a buffet of trade issues.

Negotiators from Brazil, which is leading the talks with the US, sought to play down resistance from other countries to the shared vision that their nation had reached with US officials.

Adhemar Bahadian, Brazil's lead negotiator, said Sunday that efforts by Canada, Chile and other countries to make the FTAA more far-reaching were "inconclusive."

Under the agreement between the US and Brazil, discussions over some difficult topics like agricultural subsidies would shift to the World Trade Organization, leaving the Free Trade Area of the Americas to deliberate issues where a wider consensus could be reached.

Regis Arslanian, a Brazilian delegate, said negotiators from Brazil and the US had reached a "common vision" that would allow talks aimed at creating the FTAA to move forward, however watered-down the agreement could become.

A shared assessment of the parameters of the FTAA between the US and Brazil, South America's largest economy, is expected to avert a collapse of the talks this week along the lines of what happened two months ago in Cancun, Mexico, when a meeting of the WTO was dissolved amid resistance from developing countries led by Brazil.

Officials from the office of the US trade representative insisted on Sunday that their ambition was still to create a more profound framework for lowering barriers to trade in the hemisphere.

"The United States reaffirmed its strong interest in a comprehensive and ambitious agreement that recognizes the need to address more flexibilities for some countries," said Richard Mills, a spokesman for Robert Zoellick, the US trade representative.

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