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Free-trade declaration for Americas delayed.

Tuesday, January 13th 2004 - 20:00 UTC
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Disagreements over free trade on Tuesday held up agreement over a joint declaration by heads of state attending an extraordinary Summit of the Americas.

Diplomats began discussions on the declaration on Thursday but have been unable to agree a clause welcoming progress in developing a Free Trade Area of the Americas. This is despite the fact that the region agreed last November in Miami to press ahead with the plan. According to the agreement the FTAA ? which would significantly reduce barriers within the hemisphere ? has to be in place by January 2005.

Venezuela's leftwing government, however, has opposed any mention of the trade agreement in the declaration, while the administration of Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva in Brazil said it could not accept any mention of the deadline. Discussion over other issues has also been extremely protracted. Brazil and Venezuela have objected to any effort to automatically exclude from future Summits of the Americas countries unable to meet agreed standards of clean government.

One idea had been to attach anti-corruption to the letter committing Organisation of American States' members to uphold democratic government, but critics said it would be impossible to define criteria. According to Miguel Ruiz, Mexico's ambassador to the OAS, it was expected that the 34 heads of state would agree simply to hold consultations if their adherence to "transparency and anti-corruption objectives is compromised to any serious degree in any of our countries."

There was division too over a Venezuelan proposal to establish a fund to alleviate poverty, mainly because the US and Canada argued that there were already adequate mechanisms for such development funding. Surprisingly, the heads of state also found some difficulty in agreeing an apparently innocuous proposal to press banks to reduce charges on money sent home by migrant workers to their families.

Remittances are an important source of capital for many countries in the hemisphere, especially Mexico, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic. But commission charges can be as high as 20 per cent.

The summit was called to promote social development, achieve "economic growth with equity" and "strengthen democratic governance," according to a preamble to the declaration that has been agreed. The summit ? which is being held under the auspices of the Organisation of American States ? is the third to have taken place since 1994 and is designed to strengthen hemispheric co-operation.

Categories: Mercosur.

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