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Brazilian Trade Organizations Call for Legislative Referendum on FTAA

In Brazil, representatives of trade unions, churches, and leftist organizations have called on the Congress to hold a referendum on Brazil's participation in the U.S.-backed Free Trade Area of the Americas, or FTAA. Tuesday's call in Brasilia came as these groups presented the results of their own referendum, which showed overwhelming rejection of the proposed hemisphere-wide free trade zone.

The organizations say their referendum was carried out over the past several weeks in almost 4,000 municipalities in Brazil. They said of the 10 million votes cast 98 percent were against having Brazil become a part of the FTAA.

The organizations, which staged a march in Brasilia Tuesday, now want the Congress to hold a nationwide referendum on the question. They say the FTAA will allow the United States to dominate Brazil, and the rest of the western hemisphere.

Brazil, with a population of 170 million, will co-chair with the United States the next phase of the FTAA negotiations in November. The proposal, first adopted by hemispheric leaders in 1994, aims to create a free trade zone from Alaska to the Tierra del Fuego on the tip of South America in 2005.

The government of Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso has said it is willing to join the FTAA, as long as the United States allows duty free entry for Brazilian goods that are now subject to tariffs and quotas. The government party's presidential candidate, Jose Serra, said Tuesday if elected he will not agree to join the FTAA if it is disadvantageous for Brazil. However, Mr. Serra who polls show is now in second place for the October 6 election said the trade agreement could be good for the country.

For his part, Presidential front-runner Luiz Inacio "Lula" da Silva of the leftist Workers Party says the FTAA as now contemplated would be bad for Brazil. Mr. da Silva told reporters Tuesday he believes the free trade accord is an instrument of annexation that would only favor the interests of the United States.

Washington has rejected these accusations in the past, and says it is open to wide-ranging negotiations to create an equitable free trade agreement.