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Brazil's Silva Wants Unified Latin Region
HAROLD OLMOS Associated Press Posted on Tue, Apr. 29, 2003

BRASILIA, Brazil - Pushing regional economic integration, Brazil's president met with his Bolivian counterpart in the latest summit highlighting the growing influence of South America's largest country.

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said Monday that he and Bolivian leader Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada agreed to improve roads and bridges to boost trade between the neighboring nations.

Silva, who has met with the presidents of Colombia, Peru and Venezuela in the past month, will get visits in May from the leaders Uruguay and Ecuador in the Brazilian capital.

Experts say the flurry of activity is a message to the United States: A united South America will negotiate hard over terms of a proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas trade zone.

The United States and Brazil will spearhead the negotiations to create the 34-nation bloc stretching from Alaska to the southern tip of Argentina.

Brazil and other South American countries have repeatedly said that FTAA negotiations won't go far unless the U.S. makes commitments to reduce tariff barriers on agricultural products such as orange juice and sugar.

Silva, a former union leader known for his negotiating skills with multinational firms, wants by December to merge two current Latin trading blocs - Mercosur and the Andean Community.

Mercosur is made up of Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay as members. Bolivia and Chile are associate members. The Andean grouping is made up of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.

"If he (Silva) assembles the Andean nations and Mercosur into one trading bloc, Brazil and its neighbors certainly will have better bargaining power," said David Fleischer, a political science professor at the University of Brasilia.

Despite his status as Brazil's first leftist leader and a friendship with Cuban leader Fidel Castro, Silva has made efforts to show he is willing to work with Washington.

He met last week with Treasury Secretary John Snow, who praised members of Silva's fiscally moderate financial team for dealing with the country's economic problems.

Many investors feared Silva would enact unorthodox economic policies that could lead Brazil to default on its massive foreign debt like its southern neighbor, Argentina. Since Silva's Jan. 1 inauguration, those concerns have evaporated.

The presidential meetings between Silva and other South American leaders also appear designed to give Brazil a higher profile on the international front. Silva said over the weekend that the United Nations should be reformed.

He said the Security Council should be expanded beyond the current five permanent members - United States, the United Kingdom, France, Russia and China.

The visits to Brazil also show that Silva, the country's first elected leftist president, has a more aggressive approach on international relations than his predecessors.

Traditionally Brazil has been timid in conducting foreign affairs, but Silva has given a great emphasis to Latin America" since taking office, Fleischer said.

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