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Brazil Optimistic About FTAA, but Some Major Trade Issues with US Unresolved - 2001-12-01

Brazil's trade minister says the agreements reached at the WTO conference in Doha in November could help advance the negotiations for creating the Free Trade Area of the Americas, or FTAA. But the official says significant issues are still unresolved, including what he says are some protectionist trade measures by the United States.

Brazil's minister for development, industry and trade, Sergio Silva do Amaral, says he is now more optimistic over the prospects for the FTAA, following the results of the recent WTO conference in Doha.

At that conference, WTO member nations agreed to negotiations to progessively phase out export subsidies in agriculture, and otherwise open up markets to agricultural exports. They also agreed to negotiate reducing tariffs and non-tariff barriers, including anti-dumping measures. This is especially important for Brazil, which has accused the United States of imposing anti-dumping measures as a disguised form of protectionism.

Trade Minister Amaral said if these negotiations produce positive results, the prospects for establishing a western hemisphere trade bloc are improved. "There are some issues that the European Union doesn't want to discuss on a regional basis, this is agriculture," he said, "and there's another important issue which the U.S. doesn't want to discuss within the FTAA, and that's anti-dumping. And they're both very important for Brazil. So, this is one of the positive impacts of the launching of a new round within WTO, it is that it will make it easier for some central issues to be discussed with the European Union and with the U.S."

All the nations of the hemisphere, with the exception of Cuba, are committed to establishing the FTAA in 2005, and negotiations to that end are underway. Brazil and other Latin American countries want the FTAA to provide duty-free access for their products into the US market.

In Brazil's case, there is a long list of products it says are now subject to unfair duties or tariff quotas by the United States, including orange juice, sugar, and steel.

Mr. Amaral, who spoke to foreign journalists in Rio Friday, said there is concern the United States is unwilling to lift these barriers. "What we have, and some sectors of the business community in Brazil fear, that despite FTAA, it will be difficult for the U.S. to put on the negotiating table like anti-dumping, like many non-tarrif barriers that prevent our products from entering the U.S. market," he said. "We have more protectionism in our exports to the U.S. than the other way around, and of course, the purpose of the negotiations is to eliminate them, or substantially reduce them."

U.S. officials have said all issues are on the table in the FTAA negotiations, including greater access of Latin American agricultural products into the U.S. market. They also have defended imposing anti-dumping measures, including against Brazilian steel, saying they are protecting their industries against unfair competition.

A top U.S. Department of Commerce official, William Lash, referred to the U.S. actions on steel during a recent visit to Rio de Janeiro. "What the U.S. government is doing is a safeguard action, looking at all steel imports, and this is consistent under the WTO," he said. "Every country has the ability to analyze the competitive conditions of its industry when faced with serious injury. …Our steel industry in the U.S. has been suffering from import competition from exporters around the world."

But Trade Minister Amaral says Brazil should not be punished for being more efficient and competitive in producing steel and other products.