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REGION: FIRST SUMMIT OF EUROPEAN, LATIN AMERICAN, & CARIBBEAN STATES PROMISES CLOSER TIES & POSSIBLE FREE-TRADE AGREEMENT.

In a two-day meeting, some 48 representatives from the European Union (EU), Latin America, and the Caribbean met in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in what has been described as the first step in a movement to challenge the economic dominance of the US in the Americas. Cuban President Fidel Castro, however, introduced concerns about protecting the interests of smaller states.

EU leaders expressed the greatest satisfaction over the willingness of Southern Cone Common Market (MERCOSUR) countries to press forward with free-trade talks.

Central American leaders, who have made only limited progress in economic integration, went to the summit looking for closer economic ties with the EU. More specifically, the isthmus is looking for trade advantages in the EU market for its agricultural products.

Trade between Central American and the EU reached US$3.356 billion in 1998, making the EU Central America's second-most important trading partner after the US.

Costa Rican Foreign Minister Roberto Rojas said before leaving for the summit that a "a great effort will be made toward trade integration between America and Europe" at Rio. "In the case of the isthmus, the objective will be to maintain the present opening it has with Europe," he said.

Nicaragua's Foreign Minister Eduardo Montealegre said a major goal at Rio would be the enlargement of a trade-preference agreement under which Central American exports enter the EU market under special advantages. At present, the agreement is slated to expire in 2001. The EU conditions renewal or expansion of the system on Central America's compliance with international conventions on child labor, the environment, and freedom of workers to unionize.

Joint declaration covers economic, social, human rights issues The joint declaration contained general agreements to increase cooperation between Europe and Latin America and the Caribbean on a wide range of issues.

In general terms, it called for trade liberalization, initiation of talks leading toward a free-trade zone encompassing the two blocks, incentives for investment in the poorest countries, and controls on capital flows.

Other points touched on were environmental protection, gun control, poverty reduction, promotion of human rights, efforts to counter drug trafficking, terrorism, racism, corruption, and support for the principle of nonintervention.

Castro introduces discordant note at summit Some press reports said Castro was marginalized at the summit and soundly criticized by such staunch Cuban trading partners as Spain and Great Britain for the recent trial of four Cuban dissidents (see NotiCen, 1999-03-18).

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said he criticized Castro on human rights during a closed-door meeting. In doing so, however, Cook broke the diplomatic boycott Great Britain has imposed on Cuba since 1959, during which time no ministerial-level meetings took place between the two countries.

Castro went to the summit with his own agenda. He wanted an explicit condemnation of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act and the US embargo against Cuba, regional debt reduction, and regional solidarity. The Cuban agenda did not coincide with the main summit theme of increased economic ties, since for Castro, regional solidarity generally refers to regional collaborative structures that would include Cuban participation in defiance of US policy.

During a press conference in Rio, Castro said the only way out for the region was to unite following the EU model. He got support from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who called for regional economic integration that would include Cuba.

Some reports of Castro's marginalization at the summit included the omission in the joint declaration of any mention of the 1996 Helms-Burton Act, which a preliminary draft had included at Castro's insistence. Instead, the declaration condemned attempts to enforce extraterritorial laws, an obvious reference to Helms-Burton.

The clause condemning Helms-Burton "mysteriously" disappeared from the declaration, according to diplomats at the summit. "We don't know what strange mechanism was used to suppress it," said Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jose Vicente Rangel.

But Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque said he was happy with the substitute clause and, even without specific mention of the law, the clause effectively condemned it.

In a summit address, Castro raised questions about the declaration that underlined differences between the Cuban and main summit agendas. He asked for clarification of the nonintervention clause and asked for guarantees that the EU would foreswear future interventions and colonization in the Americas.

Castro also expressed concern about the growing power and independence in Europe of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) under US leadership and the potential for the organization to embark on interventionist campaigns in weaker countries.

While praising the movement toward closer commercial ties with Europe, Castro warned against the "colossal triumph of the market economy and the Western political prescription," which, he said, were steadily impoverishing countries in the developing world.

The second Latin American, European Union, and Caribbean Summit is scheduled for 2002 in Spain. (Sources: Notimex, 06/23/99, 06/25/99, 06/27/99; Agencia Folha do Rio de Janeiro, 06/28/99; Associated Press, 06/27/99, 06/28/99, Xinhua, 06/29/99; CNN, 06/30/99)
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Comment:REGION: FIRST SUMMIT OF EUROPEAN, LATIN AMERICAN, & CARIBBEAN STATES PROMISES CLOSER TIES & POSSIBLE FREE-TRADE AGREEMENT.
Publication:NotiCen: Central American & Caribbean Affairs
Geographic Code:3BRAZ
Date:Jul 1, 1999
Words:827
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