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Negotiators Adopt Free-Trade Zone Draft

November 19, 2003

MIAMI (AP) _ Negotiators trying to turn the Western Hemisphere into the world’s largest free-trade zone adopted a draft text Wednesday that would allow countries to opt out of parts of the agreement.

The buffet-style draft, pushed by Brazil and the United States, will be handed out to trade ministers from the 34 nations in the Americas for two days of meetings starting Thursday to complete the text.

The draft does not specify which parts of the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement countries could opt out of.

The FTAA talks are aimed at eliminating or reducing trade barriers among all nations in the Western Hemisphere except Cuba.

The Bush administration has tried to keep negotiations on cutting U.S. subsidies to American farmers out of the FTAA, preferring to deal with the matter on the global level, through the World Trade Organization. Brazil has done the same with discussions on investment and intellectual-property rights.

Until recently, both countries had fought over those strategies. But they now seem to be trying to avoid a failure like the one at WTO talks in September. Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said Wednesday that trying to push the United States to drop farm subsidies in FTAA talks was like ``believing in fairy tales.″

He and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick denied that the draft was a so-called ``FTAA Light,″ saying it still was comprehensive.

Canada, Chile, Mexico and several Caribbean countries had pushed for a more specific FTAA text. Chilean officials criticized the draft, saying it will reduce the FTAA to a ``minimum.″

The FTAA proposal also is drawing criticism from anti-globalization activists, a mix of environmentalists and union activists. An estimated 20,000 or more protesters are expected to turn up for a march Thursday.

The largest industry group of U.S. manufacturers has made it clear to the Bush administration that it does not support the watered-down version, said Scott Otteman, director of international trade policy for the National Association of Manufacturers. The group wants the Americas turned into a true free-trade zone with no tariffs.

Canada’s international trade minister, Pierre Pettigrew, and Richard Bernal, lead negotiator for the 15-member Caribbean Community, said they were satisfied with the draft. Bernal said it takes into account the difficulties smaller economies have in competing with developed nations.

The aid group Oxfam International called the draft a major achievement for poorer countries _ noting Brazil’s influence in the talks.

``The approval of the opt-in, opt-out version of the FTAA clearly is demonstrative of the new assertiveness of developing countries in trade negotiations,″ Oxfam spokesman Mark Fried said.


AP Business Writer Traci Carl contributed to this report.


On the Net:

FTAA conference: http://www.miamiftaa2003.com

Stop the FTAA: http://stopftaa.org

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