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Last Updated: Monday, 17 November, 2003, 23:00 GMT
Americas trade zone talks begin
Police on bikes preparing for the FTAA talks
Miami's police are massing to block protesters
Talks have begun in Miami between 34 of the 35 countries in the Americas to try to finalise a massive free trade zone.

The Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) would include 800 million people with an output of $14 trillion a year.

But the talks hit an early snag as some countries objected to a deal between joint chairs Brazil and the US.

The two, who have been at loggerheads, decided to settle their differences by letting individual states pick and choose among some parts of the deal.

A la carte

That goes against what many of the other countries in Miami for the talks want: a comprehensive deal dropping tariffs and trade barriers across the twin continents.

But the "menu" approach the chairs are suggesting may be the only way they can resolve the deep divergence between them.

America's farmers, not to mention powerful voices in the unions, want to limit the agreement's scope, and the White House of President George W Bush is reluctant to push with an election due in less than a year.

Protesters gather ahead of the FTAA talks
Mass protests are planned for the talks
The meeting's location in Miami could concentrate US negotiators' minds, since the state will be key to the election - and is home to thousands of citrus farmers whose livelihoods could be threatened if they lose their lucrative subsidies.

In any case, the Bush administration's early keenness on the FTAA has waned as its its "War on Terror" and particularly the situation in Iraq has dominated its attention.

No roll-back

Brazil, meanwhile, wants farm access badly and was a leader of the developing-nation moves at the global trade talks in Cancun in September, which blocked US and European attempts to push forward their own agenda.

But it is prepared to leave farm talks for a fresh global round as long as the US does not push too hard for access to Brazil's financial services and technology markets.

The US side was keen to play down any notion that it was rolling back its plans for the FTAA.

"No-one here is talking about retreating in any significant or substantive way from the goals that have been set by the 34 nations," said Ross Wilson, leader of the US negotiating team.

As well as the action around the negotiating table, the streets outside are likely to attract attention.

Thousands of protesters, from environmentalists to union members, are planning to throng the streets, although Miami's police have already been shutting off roads.

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