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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 January, 2004, 07:28 GMT
Americas leaders 'overcome' rifts
The heads of Honduras, the United States, Canada and Brazil (clockwise) laugh as they have their photo taken at the summit
Despite the smiles, some leaders had challenged Bush [top right] on key issues
Leaders attending an Americas summit in Mexico have signed a final declaration, despite earlier rifts on the key issues of free trade and corruption.

The document pledges support for the setting up of a free trade area for the Americas in 2005 - a key US demand.

Many see it as a victory for President Bush in the face of fierce opposition, particularly from Venezuela and Brazil.

But Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez told the BBC he did not feel they had been forced to make any concessions.

Venezuela and Brazil initially did not want trade to be mentioned in the document, issued after the two-day summit in Monterrey, in northern Mexico.

They wanted a commitment to tackling poverty and promoting development, which was also included in the declaration.
The best way to eradicate poverty is to encourage trade between nations
US President George W Bush

However, analysts say that nearly all the key issues have been somewhat watered down in the declaration.

The BBC's Stephen Gibbs in Monterrey says US President George W Bush has survived the fierce criticism of some of his southern neighbours and used the summit to rebuild relations with Mexico and Canada.

Mexican President Vicente Fox welcomed Mr Bush's proposals to give temporary permits to millions of Mexican illegal workers in the US.

Mr Bush also found a close ally in Canada's new Prime Minister, Paul Martin, our correspondent adds, after the US president said Canadian firms would now be allowed to bid for US-financed reconstruction projects in Iraq.

Canada had previously been barred from bidding for such contracts because it had not supported the US-led invasion.

'New moral architecture'

The planned Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) aims to create the world's largest free trade area with a market of some 800 million people.

During the summit, many of the leaders challenged Mr Bush's belief that the FTAA was the right solution to the region's deepening poverty.
Greenpeace protester
Bush's attendance attracted protesters

Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo criticised Washington for refusing to reduce agricultural subsidies, while asking the region's poor nations "to play ball in the free trade court".

Washington originally insisted on reaffirming the goal of finishing FTAA talks by 1 January 2005.

But the Monterrey declaration only calls for following the FTAA's "established timetable", with no specific date mentioned.

This, said Mr Chavez, was a victory for those who had opposed the free trade area.

He also said the summit had helped create a new political bloc in South America against free trade and the US.

"This is the most important thing that happened at the summit," he told the BBC in an interview.

No 'safe haven'

The declaration says the region's nations will intensify "efforts and strengthen co-operation" to fight terrorist threats - another key demand by Washington.

The leaders also pledged to deny "safe haven to corrupt officials" and to co-operate in the "return of the proceeds of corruption to their legitimate owners".

The US wanted to bar corrupt nations from future Americas summit - but the declaration only calls for consultations on countries that do not meet the requirements of the Inter-American Convention against Corruption.

The adopted measures are expected to be fine-tuned at a next summit in Nicaragua later this year.

The BBC's Ian Pannell
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