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EU-Latin American Summit Calls For Closer Ties - 2002-05-18

Leaders from the 15-nation European Union and leaders from some of Latin America's poorest countries agreed Saturday to boost economic ties and begin to clear the way for a new framework that could lead to free trade talks down the road. But the Madrid summit did have some detractors .

The summit, which brought together nearly 50 leaders from Latin America, marks the first time the EU has hinted at the possibility of opening free trade negotiations with the region. While this move may have placated some Latin American leaders who have long charged Europe with ignoring the region, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez voiced some skepticism about the overall meeting. Rather than attend a meeting between EU leaders and Andean nations, Mr. Chavez held a press conference before leaving Madrid in which he said that historically these summits accomplish little. He said that Latin American leaders went from "summit to summit" while people in these nations went from "abyss to abyss."

In response, Spanish Prime Minister Jose MarĂ­a Aznar, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU, listed what he believed were clear signs that the summit was a success: a clear analysis of the problems of terrorism and drug-trafficking, a trade agreement signed with Chile, as well as meetings with the various regional organizations of the Americas aimed at increasing economic, political and cultural cooperation.

Mexican President Vicente Fox and Brazilian President Enrique Cardoso also praised the the outcome of the summit, pointing out that Spain had developed economically in the past 40 years as a result of European and U.S. investments. Mr. Fox, whose country became the first Latin American country to have an association agreement with the EU, stressed the importance of "closeness" between Latin America and Europe. The two sides agreed to hold a ministerial meeting in Brazil in July to push for slow free-trade talks between the EU and Mercosur, which includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay. The next EU-Latin America summit will be held in Mexico in 2005.