US Focuses on Trade With Latin America In Planning Summit

TWO weeks before this coming Christmas, President Clinton and the heads of state of 33 Latin American, Caribbean, and North American countries will come to Miami to talk about the hemisphere.

The meeting will be the first of its kind in 27 years. Mr. Clinton, when he announced the summit in March, said that two broad themes will be discussed during the meeting: ``[H]ow to strengthen our democracies ... and how to improve economic growth.''

In 1967, when leaders in the hemisphere met in Punta del Este, Uruguay, they focused on narrow cold war concerns.

This time, however, the agenda of the summit should have ``trade'' up front, said United States Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown in Miami on Friday on his way to Brazil, Argentina, and Chile with a trade mission.

``Our trade with Latin America will soon pass our trade with all of Europe,'' Mr. Brown told the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce.

``Brazil has a bigger economy than the economy of Russia and all the newly independent states combined,'' he said. ``But you don't hear much about our relationship with ... this hemisphere.''

The secretary said Chile, which wants to be included in the North American Free Trade Agreement, is ``first in line for a future free trade agreement.''

The summit agenda is still being worked out. Officials here say the summit will be similar to the summit of Asia-Pacific nations held last November in Seattle.

The business and political leaders of south Florida lobbied the White House extensively to bring the conference here. Miami was chosen over Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and San Diego.

The community hopes the summit taking place Dec. 9 and 10 will cement Miami's reputation as an international business center and gateway to Latin America.

Miami's image took a beating when eight foreign tourists were killed in 1992 and 1993 by robbers. Because of the killings, tourists from Europe headed elsewhere. The city since then has been working extra hard to clean up its image.

Some here are concerned that any demonstrations at the summit might bring publicity that the city does not need. The leaders in Cuba and Haiti have not been invited, mainly because of US opposition. Haiti's exiled President Jean-Bertrand Aristide will represent his country.

The White House has reportedly reached an agreement with Cuban and Haitian exile groups so that they do not seize the summit to spotlight their causes. The State Department is said to have recommended that the president choose another city over Miami, but Clinton yielded to pressure from longtime Democrat allies in Florida, Gov. Lawton Chiles and Sen. Bob Graham.

In addition, some Latin American governments were reported to have sought and received assurances that Cuban President Fidel Castro will not be discussed at the conference.

International business from Latin America and the Caribbean accounts for 31 percent of Miami's economy. That business is forecast to rise fourfold over the next five to 10 years. Having the leaders from those countries meeting here for two days could bring the kind of publicity that the city couldn't pay for.

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