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Saturday, 18 May, 2002, 16:46 GMT 17:46 UK
Madrid summit closes with trade offer
Hugo Chavez is mobbed by supporters outside his hotel in Madrid
Chavez said the summit allowed no real debate
The European Union has offered to expand economic links with Central American states on the final day of its two-day summit with Latin American leaders in Madrid.

Spanish Foreign Minister Josep Pique, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, said a new form of co-operation was on offer which could eventually lead to a free trade agreement with the EU.

The offer is directed at Panama, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and Costa Rica.


We have to find markets for our products so they can replace coca production

Alejandro Toledo
Peruvian president

Latin American leaders at the summit have accused the EU of failing to do enough to open up trade.

Mr Pique said the EU was offering a "new framework" to Latin America's poorest states, but gave no details.

The Peruvian President, Alejandro Toledo, said lack of export markets in the EU, which heavily subsidises its own farmers, was feeding the illegal drugs trade.

"We have to find markets for our products so they can replace coca production," he said.

"Open your markets, let's be competitive in price and quality."

The EU's annual trade with Latin America now exceeds $100bn, but the bloc is not prepared to offer the whole continent the kind of free trade deals it clinched with Chile on Friday and with Mexico two years ago.

Summit's value questioned

Venezuela's outspoken President, Hugo Chavez, condemned the summit, saying world leaders were not doing enough to relieve the heavy debt of poorer states.

"There are countries in Latin America which spend almost all their budget to pay the eternal debt," he said.

Mexican President Vicente Fox (left) with Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar
The next summit is scheduled for Mexico in 2005
"Some call it the external debt, but I call it eternal because you pay and pay and it never goes away."

Mr Chavez said that the concept of EU-Latin America summits, which are held every three years, had to be rethought as they allowed "no time for debate".

The BBC's Madrid correspondent, Flora Botsford, says that in the absence of Cuba's Fidel Castro at this summit, Mr Chavez appears to have set out to wave the banner of the left.

Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar, the summit's host, defended the two-day meeting, saying it had made substantial progress.

EU officials held a separate meeting on Saturday with Mexican President Vicente Fox, whose country will host the next summit in 2005.

See also:

17 May 02 | Europe
EU and Latin America join forces
15 May 02 | Europe
Spain 'foils ETA summit attack'
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