- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 2, 2002

The United States and the European Union are racing to complete free-trade agreements with Chile, the South American nation that already has deals with Canada, Mexico and a number of other countries.

The United States and its counterparts from the 15-nation European Union find themselves working on trade policy in many of the same places around the world these days, but in few places so vigorously as Chile.

European Union Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy will travel to Santiago, Chile, on Monday to help wrestle with the details of the European pact. U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick announced on Thursday that the next round of Chilean-American talks will come in early April.

Since he took office last year, Mr. Zoellick has repeatedly warned that the United States is falling behind in a global competition to make trade agreements.

But, both sides caution, it is not a competition to get a deal with Chile first.

"We don't see [the American and European talks] as connected," said Richard Mills, Mr. Zoellick's spokesman. "Our goal is to negotiate the best deal possible for American farmers, workers and consumers."

Anthony Gooch, the spokesman for Mr. Lamy, sees things in almost identical terms.

"We see our negotiations in different contexts," he said. "We look after our trade interests, and the United States does likewise."

But the Chileans, according to officials involved in the talks, see plenty of links. Most important, they see the opportunity to stoke a European-American rivalry that might work to their advantage.

For example, the Chileans want the Americans to reform laws that penalize importation of products that are government-subsidized or "dumped" on the American market at prices lower that costs in Chile, officials involved in the talks said.

In the face of American resistance to this step, the Chileans have appealed to the European Union. Chile hopes, apparently, that Europe might prove a valuable ally for the issue. So far, Europe is refusing to give in to Chile's demands.

Trade between the United States and Chile totaled $6.7 billion in 2000. The European Union was slightly ahead last year with about $7.3 billion in commerce with Chile.

Both the United States and Europe hope to complete their negotiations by the middle of the year.

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