DEVELOPING countries in Latin America, like the United States, have much to lose at this week's trade discussions in Brussels. As exporters of beef, wheat, soybeans, orange juice, and other agricultural products, they too want to see Europe compete more fairly. The issue has drawn Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay into the newly formed Conasur, or Consultative Council for Agricultural Cooperation of Southern Area Countries. Paraguay, not a GATT member, also joined the group, which held its initial meeting Nov. 22. Without a new trade agreement, ``the big problem would be the falling apart of the GATT system,'' says Jos'e Vicente Pimentel, a Brazilian foreign ministry spokesman.
Southern cone countries and the US have moved recently to prove their commitment to forming a regional bloc, partly as a threat to Europe. Last week, representatives from Uruguay, Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina, and the US met in Montevideo to begin drafting a framework for a free trade zone, seen as part of President George Bush's Initiative for the Americas.
However, some economists express doubts about the plan. ``This Bush initiative - preference for the region - it's nothing more than a bluff at GATT,'' says Argentine economist Jorge Bogo.
In the GATT talks, Argentina and Brazil have been at odds with the US on the issue of intellectual property. Both countries recently promised to draft legislation to respect foreign patents, but the process is taking longer than the US would like.