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Americas' Summit in Mexico Ends - 2004-01-14


Leaders of 34 Western Hemisphere nations have wrapped up a two-day regional summit in northern Mexico that dealt with free trade, immigration, poverty and efforts to combat corruption.

At the summit's conclusion Tuesday, Mexican President Vicente Fox spoke of expanding free trade in the Western Hemisphere. President Fox cited Mexico as an example of a Latin American country which has benefited from free trade accords with other nations.

President Bush, who attended the talks, made clear he sees the expansion of free trade in the hemisphere as the most important goal of the summit. Mr. Bush and Mr. Fox support the idea that trade leads to prosperity.

But, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has challenged the notion that free trade alone can alleviate the region's poverty. He has called on regional nations to address what he calls the growing gap between rich and poor.

Last year, trade ministers from the entire Western Hemisphere except Cuba approved a framework for creating the world's largest free trade zone by 2005 -- the Free Trade Area of the Americas.

The United States already has free trade agreements with Mexico and Canada through the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and a handful of other bilateral pacts.

President Bush also said Canada will be eligible to bid on a second round of major reconstruction contracts in Iraq -- a move apparently aimed at mending relations between the North American neighbors.

Mr. Bush made the surprise announcement today (Tuesday), following a meeting with Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin on the sidelines of the summit. Canada, which did not support the U.S. led war in Iraq, had been excluded from taking part in a first round of reconstruction contracts in Iraq.

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