Officials Hopeful About Free Trade Talks

The Bush administration indicated Thursday that some progress had been made in narrowing differences that had stalled talks aimed at creating a Western Hemisphere free trade zone (search).

The hopeful assessment came after two days of discussions between the co-chairs of the negotiations, Acting U.S. Trade Representative Peter Allgeier and Brazilian negotiator Adhemar Bahadian.

"The meetings were quite constructive and we feel some differences have been narrowed," Richard Mills, Allgeier's spokesman told reporters.

The two officials said they plan to meet again on March 29-30. Mills said both sides hoped enough progress would be made at the March meeting to schedule a meeting of deputy trade negotiators from all 34 countries involved in the discussions in late April or early May.

"There is a tremendous amount of work to do, but there is movement and we are going in the right direction," Mills said, while declining to discuss specifics.

The effort to create a Free Trade Area of the Americas (search), which would involve every country in the Western Hemisphere except Cuba, has been stalled for months with Brazil and the United States remaining far apart on a number of issues including U.S. protections for American farmers and Brazil's laws covering the protection of intellectual property rights.

Negotiatiors have already missed an original January 2005 deadline for wrapping up the talks even under a scaled-down two-tier approach that has been dubbed "FTAA lite" by critics.

Under this approach, which was devoloped at a ministerial meeting in Miami in November 2003, all countries would sign on to basic trade liberalization (search) while those who want to go further and achieve full abolition of trade barriers envisioned by a free trade agreement would have the ability to do so.