BRASILIA, BRAZIL (AP)--Brazil and the United States are confident they can resolve differences over the creation of a trade zone uniting North and South America, top negotiators said May 28, as they concluded two days of talks.
Seeking to quash doubts they may fail to meet a 2005 deadline, to seal an agreement, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick and Brazil's foreign minister predicted the target would be met.
"I am leaving with a positive sense," Zoellick said, after meeting with top advisers to President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Foreign Minister Celso Amorin added, "We're satisfied that the U.S. values our partnership."
Zoellick and Amorin did not disclose details of the negotiations, but Zoellick said that he discussed with Finance Minister Antonio Palocci ways to reduce tariffs on clothing and textiles over five years.
"Our goal is to use trade as a lever for development and economic growth, and we exchanged ideas on how to benefit the hemisphere in general," Zoellick said.
Brazil and the United States are leading negotiations over the 34-nation bloc stretching from Alaska to Argentina. But South American countries have said serious negotiations won't occur until America agrees to eliminate agricultural tariffs.
During his visit, Zoellick repeatedly stressed that the U.S. is willing to negotiate all tariffs. He also took pains to praise Silva, Brazil's first elected leftist leader, known popularly as Lula.
"We have a high degree of respect for the first steps of the Lula economic agenda," Zoellick said.
Brazilian officials have said the South American trade bloc Mercosur--which Brazil leads--should clinch a trade agreement with the United States before an FTAA deal is reached.
Zoellick downplayed the Brazilian idea of reaching a U.S. trade agreement with Mercosur. Mercosur's other member countries are Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. Chile and Bolivia are associate members.
Zoellick is also laying the groundwork for a White House meeting between Brazilian Silva and President Bush on June 20.
Zoellick, who was scheduled to return to Washington May 28, said his visit to Brazil discuss FTAA was significant, but "the most important moment will be the meeting between the two presidents."