- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 6, 2003

Officials of the United States, Brazil and other nations in the Western Hemisphere this weekend will try to end a stalemate in talks to create a trade agreement among 34 nations in the Americas.

A U.S.-Brazil meeting today and a so-called mini-ministerial among 16 countries tomorrow outside Washington precedes an important, hemispheric gathering in less than two weeks in Miami. Leaders there hope to set the stage for a trade zone ranging from Canada in the north to Argentina in the south.

The Free Trade Area of the Americas is an important component of the Bush administration’s policy in the hemisphere, and would create the world’s largest market, with a combined output of $13 trillion and almost 800 million consumers.

But the United States and Brazil have been at odds over the scope of the pact, a split that threatens to undermine the meeting later this month in Miami, and the ultimate FTAA deadline of January 2005.

The two nations have sharply disagreed on trade issues at global and regional levels. They clashed two months ago at World Trade Organization talks in Cancun, Mexico, that ultimately collapsed. The Bush administration and Congress blamed Brazil, which led a group of more than 20 nations in opposition to U.S. and European farm trade policies, for contributing to the breakdown.

The animosity culminated early last month at a gathering in the Caribbean, where negotiators were unable to agree on the basic structure of the agreement, showing a clear division among countries. U.S. officials at the time said they were disappointed with Brazil’s “unwillingness to engage on the substantive issues.”

In the meantime, U.S. efforts to isolate Brazil in Latin America and pressure within Brazil to strike a deal have mounted.

The meeting today between U.S. Trade Representative Robert B. Zoellick and Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim and tomorrow’s broader gathering, scheduled on short notice, are meant to narrow differences.

“This meeting is designed to facilitate discussions and help prepare for a successful ministerial in Miami that will advance the FTAA negotiations,” said Richard Mills, spokesman for the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office.

So far the two sides have shown limited flexibility. Brazilian officials have said they do not want to include rules that govern investment by foreign companies, public contracts and intellectual property. All are key issues for the United States.

Meanwhile, the United States is unwilling to roll back generous farm subsidies, which make Brazilian products less competitive, as part of a regional agreement. U.S. citrus and sugar growers are especially wary of the pact and have lobbied against concessions.

Brazil recently has signaled some room for compromise. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva last month said he would look for a “middle way between the agenda of the richest countries and that of the poorest, in which no one walks away with everything, in which everyone goes home with a piece of the prize.”

But a “middle way” may be difficult to find.

“I would say the chances are not all that good that we’ll reach an agreement, but they’re not absent,” said Sidney Weintraub, director of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.

The United States is the most important market for countries in the region, and greater access to that market is a strong incentive for nations to side with U.S. negotiators, he said.

Countries participating in the weekend meeting are Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States and Uruguay, the trade office said.

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