Bush Back from Brazil After Abortive Free Trade Crusade

U.S. President George W. Bush wrapping up his Latinamerican tour in Panama said Monday, November 7, that United States and Panama would continue working to forge a free-trade agreement for the Americas (FTAA) and pushed for completion of a bilateral pact.

In a joint press conference with Panamanian President Martin Torrijos, Bush defended the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (insisting it was "important for United States and Panama".

At the Summit of the Americas over the weekend in Mar del Plata, Mercosur full members (Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay plus Venezuela) balked at a proposal by the United States and 28 other countries – in the final declaration – to relaunch the FTAA stalled talks, leaving the issue for after the coming December World Trade Organization (WTO) Hong Kong meeting.

United States and Panama are currently involved in trade negotiations tailored on the recent Central America Free Trade agreement, which calls for gradual elimination of tariffs and other trade barriers although differences over agriculture produce persist.

President Bush arrived from Brazil where he promised his counterpart Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva to work towards the elimination of farm subsidies, which he said was fundamental in order to achieve free trade around the world.

During his visit in Brazil President Bush accused some of the Latinamerican nations of rolling back the democratic progress of the last twenty years in an apparent reference to Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez.

President Lula spoke of a growing partnership between the two leaders and said they had both agreed that eliminating U.S. and European farm subsidies, which he said made trade unfair, was the key to success in the forthcoming World Trade Organization (WTO) Hong Kong talks.

In reply, President Bush promised to work together with Brazil to do this. However, he said the US could only reduce subsidies to its farmers if Europe, Japan, South Korea were willing to do the same.

In Panama Bush and Torrijos also addressed a controversial issue pending from the time the Canal was transferred to Panama: who’s responsible for cleaning up the abandoned firing ranges with abundant unexploded ordnance used by the U.S. military in Panama.

"There isn’t always agreement with the United States" on some issues, such as the clean-up of the firing ranges, but the two countries can speak "with frankness" about this and other matters, admitted President Torrijos.

This article appeared originally in Mercopress – www.mercopress.com.

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