- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 18, 2003

MIAMI (AP) — Canada, Mexico, Chile and several Caribbean nations are circulating a compromise proposal aimed at advancing stalled talks that would create the world’s largest free-trade area, according to documents obtained yesterday by the Associated Press.

The draft attempts to combine several competing proposals, but allows countries to decide whether they want to participate in a second level of negotiations on thorny issues such as investment rules and removing agricultural subsidies and tariffs.

Canadian spokesman Sebastien Theberge would not comment on the text’s details, but said a U.S.-Brazilian proposal was too vague and his country wanted more “precision and predictability.”

Regis Arslanian, a lead Brazilian negotiator, confirmed the existence of the compromise proposal but said the Brazilian delegation wanted to keep the original draft intact.

Mexican and Chilean officials did not return messages late yesterday seeking comment.

Earlier yesterday, the United States announced it would seek separate agreements with Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick said the new talks, scheduled to begin next spring, do not undermine negotiations being held this week in Miami to build a Free Trade Area of the Americas.

“Some countries are willing to move more quickly, and for those who are willing to move more quickly we want to try to achieve that end,” he said, and “it’s a way that we can try to lend an overall momentum to trade.”

Jorge Botero, Colombia’s trade minister, said the new effort was “consistent and complementary” with negotiations for a Free Trade Area of the Americas.

Trade officials must agree on a final draft by today. Trade officials tomorrow will begin two days of negotiations on the final text.

Within the Americas, the United States has free-trade agreements with Canada, Mexico and Chile and is in the process of negotiating similar pacts with Central American nations and the Dominican Republic.

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