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Brazil: US Trade Restrictions Jeopardizes Hemisphere - 2001-12-19

Brazil says U.S. restrictions included in the so-called Fast Track trade authority endanger the prospects for a hemisphere-wide free-trade area. Brazil's Foreign Minister made the warning at a news conference with foreign journalists in Rio de Janeiro.

South American countries have wanted the United States to approve the so-called fast-track-trade authority. But Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Lafer says his country objects to various provisions included in the Trade Promotion Authority legislation approved by the House of Representatives earlier this month.

That bill, which has yet to be approved by the Senate, gives President Bush expanded authority to negotiate trade accords. Under fast track, once these accords are negotiated they are submitted to the Congress for an up or down vote without amendments. But the House version of the legislation includes restrictions on what U-S trade officials can negotiate - including barring any deals on products like sugar and citrus.

Foreign Minister Lafer says these restrictions will create problems in reaching agreement on a hemisphere-wide free trade accord. "I do not diminish the difficulties we will have, considering the limitations to the negotiating process that the Trade Promotion Authority, as it stands, contemplates - especially in the area of products that are of great interest to Brazil," says Mr. Lafer. "Products in the agricultural area, of agribusiness in general, and products in the textile area."

The proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas, known as FTAA, would create a Western Hemisphere free-trade area in 2005. Brazil is among the 34-nations that have agreed to work toward this goal.

Those nations say negotiating the free-trade area is not possible without fast-track trade authoritry for the U.S. president. But Mr. Lafer warns his country will limit the scope of its trade negotiations if the restrictions contained in the fast-track legislation force Washington to do the same. "Any negotiation of the range of the FTAA is a process in which reciprocity has to take place," he says. "If the U.S. position will be a position with many limitations, the Brazilian position will be correspondingly a position also of many limitations. Now the final result of that we will have to see."

The Brazilian press has been filled with articles in recent days predicting the FTAA is dead because of the restrictions imposed by U.S. lawmakers. Mr. Lafer refused to describe the FTAA process as moribund - but said Brazil will continue to insist on reciprocity from the United States.