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Friday, 6 April, 2001, 22:52 GMT 23:52 UK
FTAA talks enter critical phase
Pedro Malan, Brazils finance minister, center, joins Pedro Solbes, a top finance official for the EU, left, and Jose Luis Machinea, Argentina's former economy minister.
The discussion over the FTAA is causing serious strain within South America's largest trading block
The United States says it will keep up pressure on Western Hemisphere countries to agree to specific milestones for completing a regional free trade pact, as talks continue in Buenos Aires.

US officials dropped an earlier plan to speed up talks to create a Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), stretching from Canada to Chile.

But with the current round of negotiations at a critical point, US trade representative Robert Zoellick said it was important countries leave this week's meeting with a "sense of momentum."

Meanwhile, Argentina has barred 1,000 Brazilian protesters from entering the country, to prevent them from joining protest marches against the creation of a free trade zone.

'Diplomatic conflict'

Argentine border police stopped 24 buses on Thursday night headed to protest marches in Buenos Aires.

Activists oppose the economic and social models that many American countries have adopted, saying they have worsened the plight of developing countries and widened the gap between the rich and the poor.

"This has become a diplomatic conflict," said Lucia Simoes, a director for the World Social Forum (WSF), an international ant-globalization group.

"They don't have any justification for doing this since all of our papers were in order."

The buses full of union workers, landless peasants and students were halted at border cities in Brazil and Uruguay.

US hegemony

Trade officials are hoping to come up with a draft which can be presented to the Summit of the Americas in Quebec on 22 April.

If it works it will be the most ambitious free trade pact to date aiming to encompass almost the whole hemisphere - with the notable exception of Cuba.

Its supporters believe it is the way forward to ensure stability and economic growth for both rich and poor nations.

Critics denounce it as a manoeuvre to ensure US hegemony - which will undermine national sovereignty and strengthen the power of multi-national corporations.

US President, George W Bush
US President, George W Bush has taken up the FTAA project initiated by his father.

The idea was first proposed during the administration of George Bush.

His son in the White House has now taken up the project - and wants to speed up the present timetable from 2005 to 2003.

This challenge is seriously testing the unity of existing Latin American trading blocks - where there are widely differing opinions as to how quickly to move towards free trade - or whether it is a good idea at all.

Target date

At the start of this week's negotiations, the US had lent its support to a Chilean proposal that would have established a 1 January, 2005, target date for implementation of an agreement.

But it has faced strong opposition from Brazil, which argued the talks were too complicated to conclude ahead of schedule, leading the US backed away from the Chile's proposal.

However, The US delegation has said it will continue to push countries to agree on specific milestones, especially in the key area of market access.

Farm subsidies

Latin American negotiators are calling on the US to agree to talks to reduce its huge domestic farm subsidies, which they say give US producers an unfair trade advantage.

US farmers oppose negotiations on domestic subsidies in the FTAA because it would not require other developed countries like the European Union and Japan to make similar cuts.

Brazil and other Latin American countries also oppose US proposals that would require countries to pledge they would not relax their labour and environmental laws to attract investment.

The White House faces pressure from Democrats to include labour and environmental provisions in trade pacts, but many developing countries fear they could become trade barriers.

Officials are trying to hammer out guidelines for the FTAA, which would link more than 783 million people who produced more than $11.4 trillion in goods and services in 1999, generating about $2,700bn in cross-border trade.

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23 Mar 01 | Americas
Brazil could block FTAA
27 Mar 01 | Business
World trade talks stall
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