The Idea of a FTAA with the US and Without Cuba is Dead, Says Brazil’s Lula

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva stressed Friday, July 21, in Argentina, the crucial importance of Mercosur for world trade and encouraged his counterparts to reinvent Mercosur and meet the expectations of the junior members.

"We are changing the commercial geography that was established by rich countries a long time ago," Lula said, adding that key members of Mercosur had "imposed the need to respect developing countries at the negotiation table."

Lula made his remarks in his closing speech of the Mercosur summit in Cordoba, Argentina, where Brazil assumed the rotating chair of the group for the next six months.

"Maybe in at most 15 years we can have a Mercoamerica," Lula said, referring to the dream of a trade alliance from Mexico to the southern tip of South America.

"The rich are still rich, but today they are hardly going to hold a meeting without taking into account Mercosur, without taking into account us, China, India, South Africa and other countries that have started to have an effect on the political decisions that are adopted today at the World Trade Organization," insisted the Brazilian leader.

"Opportunities do not depend on our rivals, on our enemies, but on the understanding and the need to stand together and build together alternatives to improve the lives of out peoples," added Lula.

He also admitted the existence of problems among the group’s partners but "I do not think that Mercosur is undergoing a crisis. In 1998, much was said about the end and I insisted on saying that the bloc was not in crisis, but our countries."

"I think that many questions that are viewed as signals of rupture are the outcome of problems inherited from a past that we need to overcome. Our central aims are more effective than ever/" he emphasized.

But governments must remain "alert" because those "who long nourish anxieties are conservative sectors that have long been working to finish off Mercosur."

Lula identified "asymmetries" as another serious obstacle to surmount, a reference to the substantial economic differences between small Paraguay and Uruguay, on one side, and big Brazil and Argentina on the other. Uruguay and Paraguay have bitterly complained that Mercosur has only benefited Brazil and Argentina and are discussing closer bilateral links with United States.

"Argentina, Brazil and now Venezuela must act with generosity so we can make concessions, even against our local interests. We must be convinced that the junior countries have to develop knowing that our block must become an ever more respectful group".

The Brazilian President called for a new star to add to the four currently in the white Mercosur flag to include recent member Venezuela. He predicted that Bolivia and Mexico, and other countries in the region will "soon" have their own stars in the flag.

Lula also underlined that the idea of a Free Trade of the Americas Association, – sponsored by the US and excluding Cuba -, has virtually disappeared from the region’s dialogue, and "if it were to regain strength, it will have to talk first to Mercosur."

"No one’s talking anymore" about the Free Trade of the Americas proposal blocked by Venezuela and the Mercosur nations last year in the hemisphere summit at Mar del Plata, Argentina.

Mercopress – www.mercopress.com

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