Saturday, November 05, 2005

Trade Agreement Stalled as Americas Meeting Ends

MAR DEL PLATA, Argentina, Nov. 5 - A two-day summit meeting of leaders of 34 Western Hemisphere nations attended by President Bush was drawing to a close here on Saturday without a clear agreement on when and how to resume stalled negotiations aimed at achieving a hemispherewide free trade agreement.

Mr. Bush had hoped to persuade his counterparts from Latin America and the Caribbean to deliver a resounding endorsement of the plan, known as the Free Trade Area of the Americas. But suspicions of American intentions prevailed in the end, and the final communiqué seemed likely to fall short of that ambitious goal.
But Latin America has never spoken with one voice on free trade. Many layers of doubt and dissent are on display here, and some may have been worsened by Washington's insistence on an agreement.

On the left are those, led by Venezuela's fiery, populist president, Hugo Chávez, who oppose free trade in any form. Mr. Chávez calls the Free Trade Area of the Americas "an annexationist plan" that would stifle or destroy local industry, roll back social safety nets and labor protections, and permanently extend American political domination of the region to the economic realm.

"We have to bury F.T.A.A." because it is the latest manifestation of "an old project of the imperial eagle that from the beginning has wanted to sink its claws" into Latin America, Mr. Chávez said Friday at a rally here of 25,000 people, who chanted anti-Bush and anti-Free Trade Area of the Americas slogans. "It is part of the capitalist model, directed from Washington, that has beaten down our peoples for so long."

In contrast, Brazil and Argentina, the leaders of the Mercosur bloc, the third-largest trading group in the world, do not oppose the concept of free trade, only Washington's version. The Mercosur group, which includes Paraguay and Uruguay, was founded in 1991 to eliminate trade barriers among its members, but also aims to achieve political integration. It covers an area with a population of nearly 250 million and produces more than $1 trillion annually in goods and services,