Hemisphere Meeting Ends Without Trade Consensus
By LARRY ROHTER AND ELISABETH BUMILLER
Mr. Bush had hoped to persuade his counterparts from Latin America and the Caribbean to deliver a resounding endorsement of the plan, the Free Trade Area of the Americas. But suspicions of American intentions prevailed in the end, and by late Saturday no final communiqué had been issued.
The White House, smarting from the failure of the talks, sought to play down the importance of an agreement.
''There's nothing in stone that says every time leaders get together you have to have a summit communiqué,'' Stephen J. Hadley, the national security adviser, told reporters aboard Air Force One en route from Mar del Plata, Argentina, to Brasília. Earlier, he said people should not overemphasize the whole issue of the declaration.
The deadlock forced the cancellation of a final lunch for the leaders, as they sought to hammer out their differences. When the group took a 15-minute break, with the talks already three hours past their scheduled end, Mr. Bush left for his flight to Brasília.
White House officials said he had left to keep to his original timetable, which called for him to meet there on Sunday with the Brazilian president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.
Other leaders, including Mr. da Silva, began departing as well, eventually leaving the talks in the hands of lower-level officials. ''Reaching a consensus in a body of this size is sometimes a difficult task,'' a senior administration official said after the president had departed. ''We'd like to see the continuation of the free trade talks, and 29 countries have indicated their support for moving ahead.''
American presidents of each party have long pushed for a hemispheric free trade zone. Ronald Reagan talked of a single market extending from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego; Bill Clinton formally broached the idea at the First Summit of the Americas in Miami in 1994.
A Free Trade Area of the Americas would be larger than the European Union, though without its free flow of labor and political integration. Benefits for the United States as the dominant economic power in the hemisphere are obvious: with no more tariffs and other barriers that inhibit entry of American goods and services, American exports to the region would boom.
But momentum has stalled, partly because the United States and Latin America are awaiting the outcome of trade talks at the Doha Round of the World Trade Organization, which will establish certain global rules any regional accord must respect. So the Bush administration has turned to smaller bilateral and regional agreements, like the Central American Free Trade Area, but came here hoping to get a commitment to resuming negotiations early next year.
''The reason why trade is so vital is because, particularly when addressing poverty, grants and loans pale in comparison to the amount of good that can be done as commerce develops at all levels of government, at all levels of society,'' Mr. Bush told a group of reporters from Latin American publications this week.
But Latin America has never spoken with one voice on free trade. Many layers of doubt and dissent are on display here, and the situation may have been worsened by Washington's insistence on an agreement.
On the left are those, led by Venezuela's fiery, populist president, Hugo Chávez, who oppose free trade in any form. Mr. Chávez calls the Free Trade Area of the Americas ''an annexationist plan'' that would stifle or destroy local industry, roll back social safety nets and labor protections and permanently extend American political domination of the region to the economic realm.
''We have to bury F.T.A.A.'' because it is the latest manifestation of ''an old project of the imperial eagle that from the beginning has wanted to sink its claws'' into Latin America, Mr. Chávez said Friday at a rally here of 25,000 people, who chanted anti-Bush and anti-Free Trade Area of the Americas slogans.
In contrast, Brazil and Argentina, the leaders of the Mercosur bloc, the third-largest trading group in the world, do not oppose the concept of free trade, only Washington's version. The Mercosur group, which includes Paraguay and Uruguay, was founded in 1991 to eliminate trade barriers among its members, but also aims to achieve political integration. It covers an area with a population of nearly 250 million and produces more than $1 trillion annually in goods and services.
As large exporters of foodstuffs, Mercosur wants the Bush administration to end billions in subsidies to American agriculture, in return for Latin American concessions on intellectual property rights, financial regulation and market access.
''We are here neither to bury F.T.A.A. nor to resuscitate it,'' but to see ''what are the advantages,'' Brazil's foreign minister, Celso Amorim, said. ''We have no prejudice against trade integration, but we don't want to put something on paper just because it looks nice.''
Some other countries with dynamic economies that have free trade pacts with the United States, like Mexico and Chile, have been trying to ease their neighbors' worries, by emphasizing the benefits of liberalized trade for exports, investment and employment. On Friday, President Vicente Fox of Mexico criticized Argentina's president, Néstor Kirchner, saying he ''must do more to save this conference,'' and suggesting creation of a regional trade accord with 29 members instead of 34, leaving out Mercosur and Venezuela.
''Anyone who blocks an accord like this is certainly looking out for their own interests and not the interests of others,'' Mr. Fox said.
But President Ricardo Lagos of Chile said the United States needed to be more flexible. ''It is very difficult to promote free trade accords when you have this kind of problem, in which the asymmetry favors those who have more and not those who have less,'' he said.
Brazil maintains that no hemispheric trade agreement can be meaningful without the participation of its fellow Mercosur partners.
Argentina's stand is complicated by the resentment and
mistrust from the economic collapse four years ago. Argentina contends
that it was abandoned by the United States in its time of crisis, and
that has colored Mr. Kirchner's dealings with the Bush administration.
Photos: An Argentine bank employee cleaned
up broken glass yesterday after rioters attacked several businesses to
protest President Bush's visit. (Photo by Enrique Marcarian/Reuters);
President Bush in Argentina yesterday. He later left for Brazil. (Photo
by Miguel Rojo/Agence France-Presse -- Getty Images)