Monday, November 17, 2003

MIAMI (AP) — Negotiations to turn the Americas into the world’s largest free-trade zone hit a roadblock yesterday on the second day of talks.

Canada and Chile complained about a proposal from Brazil and the United States that supposedly was intended to make the talks smoother, according to an official with the Brazilian delegation who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

Canadian and Chilean officials reached by telephone had no immediate comment.

Officials of 34 nations began meeting Sunday on a proposal to create the Free Trade Area of the Americas, which would eliminate or reduce trade barriers among all nations in the Western Hemisphere except Cuba.

In talks earlier this month, Brazil and the United States came up with an agreement that would create a base of common rules for the Free Trade Area of the Americas, but allow each country to pick which of the more controversial clauses it wishes to follow, according to a draft copy of the document.

The deal between those two countries would apparently scale back the free-trade region.

U.S. lead negotiator Ross Wilson insisted yesterday that the draft agreement was not a “retreat” from earlier efforts to create a comprehensive free-trade area by January 2005.

“No one here is talking about retreating in any significant or substantive way from the goals that have been set by the 34 nations,” Mr. Wilson told reporters.

He said there has been some debate among the nations on how to advance negotiations, but that was to be expected in all complex trade talks.

“Clearly, there are still a number of issues on the table,” Mr. Wilson said.

Brazil and the United States had been arguing fiercely about the scope of the agreement. Brazil wants the United States to reduce or eliminate subsidies, quotas, tariffs and other barriers that protect American farmers. The United States maintains that agricultural issues should be decided by the 146-member World Trade Organization.

Agricultural tariffs and subsidies are among the most contentious topics set for discussion this week in Miami.

The United States hopes to have the FTAA completed by early 2005.

Farm producers may have the most to lose — or gain. Florida orange growers have opposed Brazil’s efforts to lower U.S. tariffs on orange juice imports, while Brazil is fighting to remove U.S. import restrictions on its booming beef industry.

Many manufacturers in small, poorer nations are afraid they will be wiped out by more powerful U.S. competitors.

The FTAA proposal is also drawing criticism from antiglobalization activists, environmentalists and union activists who plan to stage street protests throughout the week.

Police in Miami are preparing for large and potentially violent demonstrations, with at least 20,000 protesters expected to swarm the city.

Law enforcement agencies have spent months training to avoid a repeat of the riots that undermined the 1999 World Trade Organization talks in Seattle.

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