Jan 29, 1993



Washington, Jan 13 (IPS) -- The United States must not "abuse its power' in trade negotiations with Latin America, according to Venezuelan Planning Minister Ricardo Hausmann.

The United States has great influence throughout the hemisphere but must refrain from using this influence to impose stricter conditions on Latin American nations than those used in other trade negotiations, the Venezuelan official said.

Hausmann was analysing trade relations between Latin America and the United States during a conference sponsored by the Organisation for Inter-American dialogue, which is reviewing a report on the economic and political future in the region.

The report, presented Tuesday evening, was drafted by diplomats and scholars from Latin America and the United States, and called for accelerated trade negotiations, an emphasis on social policies and a firm commitment to the defense of democracy.

The US is currently conducting trade negotiations with 31 Latin American nations, within the framework of US President George Bush's "Initiative for the Americas", which seeks to create a free trade zone from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego, which would increase investments and reduce Latin America's bilateral foreign debt to the United States.

Hausmann said that the US must avoid imposing economic parameters that condition the start of trade negotiations and immediately begin hammering out accords with its southern neighbours.

The Venezuelan Planning Minister expressed concern over US insistence on severe environmental regulations in trade negotiations, similar to those outlined in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) signed by the US, Canada and Mexico in August.

Hausmann pointed out that environmental protection and controls were costly and it was unrealistic to set similar goals for countries with radically different levels of income and development.

Instead, free trade should be a means of increasing economic growth, which will then permit environmental improvements, he said.

The United States, he complained, has also tried to impose more severe conditions on intellectual property rights, which have been rejected by the European Community (EC) and in the GATT talks.

While Washington has classified Mexican legislation governing intellectual property as "exceptional," Venezuela continues to have problems in this area.

Hausmann said the US still maintains protectionist policies that prejudice imports form Latin America.

In response to the report presented Tuesday, Hausmann objected to the call for conditioning international aid and credits on the application of social and economic policies that favour marginalised populations.

He said the threats to democracy were not coming from poor sectors, but "the widows of an old system."

He cited the case of Venezuela, which despite investing 10 percent of its budget in social programmes has experienced two attempted military coups in the past 12 months.