Bush talks free trade with Brazil


WASHINGTON, AP

President George W. Bush pledged that the United States will “iron out any differences” with Brazil over trade in the interest of maintaining positive relations with its largest Latin American neighbor.

After meeting in the Oval Office on Friday, Bush and Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso sought to gloss over their differences over establishing a free trade zone of the Americas, even while admitting they both feel pressured domestically over a potential agreement.

“We will work closely to iron any differences,” Bush said. “Obviously, each of us have got different issues that we have to deal with within our own borders. … But the thing that’s important is the spirit of cooperation. There are no differences when it comes to the desire to cooperate.”

Cardoso stopped short of endorsing the idea of hemispheric trade zone, but told reporters he would try to remove any obstacles.

“We know that the world is uneven, and it’s necessary to work to do a lot of things to offer more prosperity to the world, to the hemisphere, to Africa and other parts,” Cardoso said. “United States and Brazil can work together. And we will work together.”

The two leaders discussed preparations for the Summit of the Americas being held in Quebec on April 20-22, according to a senior administration official who spoke Friday on condition of anonymity. The trade agreement is expected to dominate those discussions.

Also, they discussed efforts to combat narcotrafficking and insurgencies in Andean countries, the official said.

Brazil, the largest country in Latin America, is wary of a free trade pact, which has been under negotiation for years. The United States and other nations hope the agreement can be reached by 2003; Brazil wants to stick to the original target date of 2005.

Cardoso’s government has accused the United States of keeping out Brazilian exports such as steel and produce in order to protect U.S. industries. Brazil also prefers negotiating trade with the United States through a trading block with Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay and associate members Bolivia and Chile.

Still, Cardoso said, those concerns need not be a factor.

“We have, of course from time to time some differences. That’s normal between nations,” Cardoso said. “And yesterday the president said, ‘To me, America first.’ Well, I would say the same, ‘To me, Brazil first.’ That’s normal. But then let’s see how to cooperate.”

Brazil’s concerns are only one obstacle to the agreement. Congress is another. Bush needs the sweeping authority to negotiate the agreement known as fast track. That would require Congress to vote yes or no on any agreement without having the power to change it.

The administration has said it hopes to win fast track authority by the end of the year.