Monday, July 29th 2002 - 21:00 UTC

South American Leaders Summit Ends

South American leaders ended a two-day summit Saturday with an agreement to strengthen regional cooperation to better negotiate with the United States a free-trade zone for the hemisphere.

In the summit's final document, called the "Guayaquil Consensus," the 10 presidents said it was important to fortify cooperation between the region's two major trade blocs to permit South America to proceed successfully with negotiations for a hemispheric-wide free-trade zone.

The two trade groups are Mercosur, made up of Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay, with Chile and Bolivia as associated members, and the Andean pact, composed of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.

In 1994, 34 countries of the hemisphere agreed to negotiate the Free Trade Area of the Americas by 2005, although the timeframe for implementation is not clear. It would stretch from Canada to Chile and include the United States.

The presidents also urged a region wide campaign against corruption and drug trafficking and expressed their support for Colombia in its war against leftist guerrilla groups.

In a news conference after the presentation of the final document, Ecuadorean President Gustavo Noboa replied testily when a reporter asked about specific measures the region could take to combat drug trafficking.

"If the idea is that countries where drugs are sown develop alternative crops, that is magnificent. But just as they ask us not to plant drugs, they should buy those alternative crops," he said.

Otherwise, he said, it is "hypocrisy" on the part of drug-consuming countries like the United States to demand eradication of coca crops, which are the raw material of cocaine.

"They're saying, 'Starve to death'," Noboa said.

Throughout the conference, officials have complained the rich countries of the northern hemisphere close off their own markets with protectionary measures, while demanding poorer countries open their own.

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