Presidents of Venezuela, Colombia, Mexico Revive G-3

Article excerpt

The presidents of Venezuela, Colombia, and Mexico met April 7-8 to discuss common problems and to revive the moribund Grupo de los Tres (G-3) bloc before the hemispheric Summit of the Americas meeting in Quebec, Canada, April 20-22.

The G-3 began in 1989 as an initiative to pool resources to provide assistance to Central America after the civil wars of the 1980s (see Chronicle, 1993-02-11). The G-3 countries signed a trade agreement in 1995, but little action has been taken since then. Banking crises in Mexico and Venezuela stalled talks to lower tariffs and other trade barriers among the three nations, which have a combined population of 150 million people.

Nevertheless, trade among the three nations has risen by 50% since 1995, reaching US$3.2 billion last year. Colombia and Venezuela are each other's biggest trade partners at US$2.4 billion in 2000.

The three oil exporters also share common interests in energy policy, with non-OPEC Mexico cooperating recently with OPEC nations, including Venezuela, on production cuts.

Pre-meeting held between Colombia and Mexico

Before the meeting in Caracas, Mexican President Vicente Fox met with President Andres Pastrana in Colombia to discuss their approaches to fighting drug trafficking. They agreed to create a bilateral mechanism to coordinate the exchange of intelligence information and police cooperation. Both presidents agreed that the annual US ritual of certification must be changed.

When asked by reporters, both Pastrana and Fox said the guerrilla group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) is not linked to the major drug cartels nor is it involved in cocaine trafficking. Their position contradicted not only sectors of their own military and judiciary but also those in the US Congress who use the label "narcoguerrillas" to justify the use of US money and personnel against the rebels.

Presidents focus on FTAA

Presidents Fox and Pastrana traveled to Caracas, Venezuela, to meet with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez April 7-8. Free trade, energy, and drug trafficking topped the agenda.

Chavez has pushed for Latin America to move more slowly toward a Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA), emphasizing instead regional trade blocs. Chavez blames savage neoliberalism for worsening poverty around the globe, and he says the G-3 should lead opposition to a fast-track FTAA deal. He has called the Quebec talks "the first great debate of the century."

Chavez and other FTAA critics say the accord could throw millions out of work, exacerbating a Latin American poverty rate that exceeds 40% by flooding regional economies with cheap US goods and forcing struggling farmers and businesses to compete against their northern counterparts, who often receive state subsidizes.

"If something needs to be accelerated, it's not the FTAA. It's the integration of Latin America," Chavez said. "We have to increase our own productivity before going to the big leagues."

Chavez won backing for his trade position at a meeting in early April with Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, who agreed the FTAA should wait until 2005 and said he would back Venezuela's bid to join the Southern Cone Common Market (MERCOSUR), the world's third-largest free trade area.

Chavez urged the other two presidents to put reducing poverty at the top of their agenda as they revived their regional trade bloc.

"We cannot have an integration agreement that leaves anyone out," said Chavez. …