Mexican President Vicente Fox Quesada has warned Canada and the United States that he will not support an Americas free-trade pact unless it includes preferential treatment and substantial relief for the hemisphere's poor.
Preparing for an official visit to Canada, Mr. Fox told The Globe and Mail that the proposed free trade area of the Americas "doesn't make sense" without aid for countries that are in a "truly desperate" condition.
"For us, the FTAA is a tool for trade and economic development, but at the same time it has to be a tool of human development," Mr. Fox said. "Otherwise, we don't see the point in it."
He said he will press leaders at next week's 34-nation Americas summit in Quebec City to build concessions for impoverished nations into the FTAA and earmark funds for economic development in depressed regions.
Mexico's President Vicente Fox speaks after returning from the United States, March 23,2001. Fox announced the closure of another military base in strife-torn Chiapas state, among the conditions named by Zapatista rebels for renewing peace talks. REUTERS/Henry Romero
"If the United States and Canada want [trade agreements] simply to win trade and room for investment, it seems to me that's a very meagre vision," he said.
Mr. Fox's remarks appeared to be in line with criticism from FTAA opponents who fear the proposed agreement will do little to address the growing gap between rich and poor in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Speaking by telephone from Mexico City, he returned to the theme several times, stressing that he is not seeking special benefits for Mexico.
"We want this agreement for the benefit of the poor countries in Latin America, and for the 240 million poor people," he said. ". . . If the agreement isn't for this purpose, frankly, it doesn't make sense."
Later, he said, Mexico wants "to eradicate poverty, discrimination, the violation of human rights throughout the continent. That should be the spirit in which we enter into this agreement."
Mr. Fox took office in December, ending the Institutional Revolutionary Party's 71-year grip on Mexico's presidency.
His political roots are right wing, with strong ties to the Roman Catholic church. But he drew prominent moderate leftists, social campaigners and human-rights activists into his cabinet.
He has argued that the North American free-trade agreement should be complemented by a development fund of between $10-billion and $30-billion (U.S.) to relieve the disparity between Mexico and its northern partners.
In yesterday's interview, he said negotiators should seize the chance to build such a fund into the FTAA, and that all countries should contribute according to their wealth.
The European Union's structural funds direct several billion dollars a year to poor regions in Greece, Ireland, Spain, Portugal and Italy. That helps offset the disruption caused by opening markets.
Economic disparities in the Americas are among the widest in the world, with per capita gross domestic product ranging from about $200 in Haiti and $500 in Nicaragua to $5,000 in Mexico and $29,000 in the United States.
Mexico, Colombia and Venezuela agreed last week to set up a $100-million social fund as part of a revived trade accord. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said it will furnish credits to small businesses and entrepreneurs.
Mr. Fox called that figure "modest," but declined to recommend a target for an FTAA fund.
Preferential treatment for poor nations in the FTAA could also include slower schedules for lowering tariffs.
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