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Participants vow to push free trade while fighting poverty

Latest update : 2008-05-17

EU and Latin American leaders wrapped up their annual summit with a pledge to sign two additional free trade agreements. In separate talks, French Premier François Fillon renewed calls for the liberation of FARC hostage Ingrid Betancourt.

EU and Latin American leaders vowed to do more to further trade between their regions and tackle global warming and poverty as they wrapped up a summit late Friday in the Peruvian capital Lima.
   
The 50 heads of state and government pledged in a joint statement to "actively pursue" two free trade agreements between Europe and Central American countries and the Andean Community (Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru).
   
They also stated that "overcoming poverty, inequality and exclusion is crucial for the attainment of social cohesion, for sustainable development and for the effectiveness of our bi-regional partnership," and asserted that climate change was a drag on economic growth.
   
European Commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso, Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, French Prime Minister Francois Fillon, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Argentine President Cristina Kirchner and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva were among the leaders who attended the summit.
   
Zapatero took the initiative on the trade issues, telling the other leaders that "maximum priority" should be given to resolving outstanding obstacles.
   
"We can't arrive at our next meeting in 2010 (in Spain) without having managed to do so," he said, saying the accords would be the best way to reduce social inequalities.
   
European Commission officials expressed disappointment at the slowness of the trade talks, which are weighed down by Latin American attempts to secure greater access to the European market for tropical products, particularly bananas.
   
Bilateral discussions on specific issues were held on the sidelines of the summit, and more were to occur Saturday before the delegations packed up and left.
   
Fillon, for instance, held discussions with the leaders of Venezuela, Colombia and Ecuador to impress upon them that France would leave "no stone unturned" in seeking to secure the liberation of Ingrid Betancourt, a Frenco-Colombian politician held by Colombian FARC guerrillas since 2002.
   
Chavez, who has a key role in that matter, was prominent at the summit, with many fearing he would put forth his trademark fiery rhetoric.
   
Instead he surprised the gathering by his moderation, even going as far to tell reporters he kissed Merkel on the cheek and apologized for comments he made last weekend claiming her center-right party was derived from the same movement "that supported Hitler" after she had urged Latin American nations to distance themselves from him.
   
But a German government source denied an assertion by Chavez that Merkel had invited him to Berlin, saying "no invitation" had been extended. He explained that the leaders' brief encounter had been entangled in a lack of comprehension: Chavez had spoken to Merkel in Spanish, which she does not understand.
   
Chavez also studiously ignored Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, whose government is stridently alleging the Venezuelan president gave material support to the FARC based on files found in a laptop seized in a March raid on a rebel camp in Ecuador.
   
Although the summit's host, Peruvian President Alan Garcia, said he believed the summit was a success, the absence of several heavyweight leaders -- notably British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi -- robbed it of some significance.
 

Date created : 2008-05-17

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