- The Washington Times - Monday, October 6, 2003

The United States and Brazil during talks this week remained at odds over a hemispheric trade agreement, raising doubts about completing one of the Bush administration’s biggest projects to liberalize commerce.

The Bush administration has described the Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement as the cornerstone of its economic policy for the hemisphere. The accord would create the world’s largest market, with a combined output of about $13 trillion and almost 800 million consumers in 34 countries.

But just weeks before a crucial meeting to push an agreement toward a January 2005 deadline, officials gathering in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago remained unable to agree on the basic structure of an agreement — a necessary starting point before negotiations can truly get under way.

The United States yesterday said Brazil is largely isolated in pressing unpopular positions that limit hopes for a comprehensive, hemispheric trade pact.

“The discussions here really I think showed a clear division among countries,” Ross Wilson, the chief U.S. negotiator, told reporters in a conference call.

“What was disappointing here was Brazil’s unwillingness to engage on the substantive issues that were under discussion. The Brazilian delegation was largely silent throughout a many hours, issue-by-issue discussion,” Mr. Wilson said.

Officials from Brazil’s embassy in Washington and foreign affairs ministry in Brasilia said they could not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Brazilian officials have said they do not want to include rules that govern investment by foreign companies, services like insurance and banking, government contracts and intellectual property rights, which govern music and other copyright material. All are key issues for the United States.

“There is a fundamental disagreement about the structure of the FTAA. If the fundamental view of what an FTAA should look like is different, then you’ve got a problem,” said Eric Farnsworth, a vice president at the Council of the Americas, a pro-trade business group.

The strong rhetoric and disagreements were reminiscent of World Trade Organization talks last month in Cancun, Mexico. They collapsed when rich nations, including the United States, fought to a standstill with developing countries like Brazil.

Brazil’s foreign minister played a central role in organizing more than 20 developing nations into a bloc that demanded an end to U.S., EU and other agricultural subsidies. The United States blamed Brazil for an unwillingness to negotiate on a host of other issues.

But Mr. Wilson spoke of Brazil’s isolation at the meeting in Port of Spain, emphasizing other groups of countries that wanted a more ambitious agreement. Brazil often makes proposals together with neighboring nations Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. The four are members of Mercosur, a customs union.

While Argentina generally hewed to the Brazilian position, and Paraguay and Uruguay sometimes did, other nations did not, Mr. Wilson said.

“I think it sort of highlighted the fact that the vision Brazil is pursuing is one that does not have significant support in this group,” Mr. Wilson said.

Mr. Wilson singled out Costa Rica for positive leadership at Port of Spain. The Central American country is negotiating a free-trade agreement with the United States, but ran afoul of the Bush administration when it sided with Brazil in Cancun, Mexico.

Other nations that had followed Brazil also were warned by the United States that they must work to liberalize trade at all levels, or risk bilateral agreements.

The troubled meeting in Port of Spain, which ran Tuesday through yesterday, does not bode well for a gathering of trade ministers next month in Miami. The Miami summit is similar to Cancun: It’s purpose is to take stock of negotiations and to set them on track for a fast-approaching deadline.

U.S. officials said they remain committed to a successful, ambitious outcome with all 34 democracies in the hemisphere. But observers are skeptical.

“The prospects [for success] at this point are less likely than Cancun, but that’s not to say it won’t happen,” Mr. Farnsworth said.

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