Vol. 5 Num 514 Mon. November 07, 2005  

Americas leaders fail to end free-trade stalemate

Leaders from around the Americas failed Saturday to resolve key differences over how to create a hemisphere-wide free trade zone during a regional summit overshadowed by violent anti-US protests.

Talks on creating the US proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, or FTAA, have been stalled for the last two years, and the Bush administration had hoped to jump-start discussions to establish the world's most populous free-trade bloc.

But Chilean President Ricardo Lagos said differing views over how to proceed persisted as the two-day Summit of the Americas ended in this Argentine seaside resort.

"The point of contention is if the conditions are there for us to negotiate. A great majority said 'Yes' but others said 'Let's wait," he said.

The United States, Mexico and some other countries had been hoping to set an April date to move the trade talks forward, a move opposed by Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela.

The Bush administration insists a regional free-trade agreement stretching from Canada to Argentina would give new markets to American businesses and help create jobs and greater prosperity in Latin America.

US officials say 29 of the 34 countries represented in the talks are behind the proposal.

But Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the region's most ardent free trade critic, has criticized the plan, calling it detrimental to Latin American workers. He came to the meeting vowing to "Bury" efforts to move FTAA forward and rallied 25,000 anti-free trade protesters on Friday.