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IN THE NEWS - Summit of the Americas - 2004-01-18

Broadcast: January 17, 2004

This is Steve Ember with In the News, in VOA Special English.

Leaders of thirty-four countries in the Americas met this week in Monterrey, Mexico. The leaders from north, central and south America and the Caribbean discussed trade, terrorism and poverty.

Mexican President Vicente Fox led the special Summit of the Americas. Mister Fox praised the two days of talks but noted there were often sharp differences of opinion. The main disputes were about the issues of free trade and helping the poor.

President Bush wanted the leaders to set a time limit of two-thousand-five to create a Free Trade Area of the Americas. That would bring together countries from Argentina to Canada, except for Cuba. Cuba's leader, Fidel Castro, was not invited to the summit.

Eight-hundred-million people live in the thirty-four nations represented at the meeting. About half live in the United States, Canada and Mexico. Some leaders said the conference did not do enough for the other half. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said the main goal should be to help the poor. He said free trade alone will not solve this problem.

President Bush and President Fox noted economic growth in their countries as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement. That agreement, known as NAFTA, is ten years old. It links Mexico, the United States and Canada. But some research says NAFTA has failed to improve living conditions in Mexico.

Mexico and Canada were the countries that gained the most from the United States during the summit and before. During the talks, President Bush promised Canada the chance to take part in future rebuilding projects in Iraq. The Bush administration had said countries that opposed the war, as Canada did, could not take part in those projects.

Also, days before the summit, President Bush announced a temporary worker program for people who entered the United States illegally. The country has an estimated eight-million to as many as twelve-million illegal immigrants. Immigration officials estimated that almost five-million came from Mexico as of January of two-thousand.

Mexico's president called the proposal a very important step forward. Mister Fox also accepted another invitation to visit Mister Bush at his home in Texas in March. Mister Bush's proposal would let illegal immigrants work legally for at least three years. Honduran President Ricardo Maduro said the plan would give people closer ties to Latin Americans in the United States.

The final declaration at the summit did not set a date to establish the Free Trade Area of the Americas. And it did not include an American proposal to bar leaders of dishonest governments from future meetings. But the leaders did promise greater cooperation in the fight against terrorism.

In the News, in VOA Special English, was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is Steve Ember.