Mexico's Fox says countries to keep "hammering" away on free trade

Mexican President Vicente Fox said on Friday that a free trade agreement for the Americas remains on track and the situation will become clearer after a key global trade meeting next month in Hong Kong. The Americas Summit, held earlier this month in Argentina, concluded without a consensus on a Free Trade Area of the Americas, which aims to create the world's largest free trade zone stretching from Alaska to Argentina.

Fox said 29 countries including Mexico favor the so-called FTAA, while Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay, of the trade bloc Mercosur, want to wait until after December's World Trade Organization ministerial meeting in Hong Kong to confirm their position. Venezuela opposes the agreement.

"We'll keep on hammering, we'll keep on working," Fox told reporters in this South Korean port city where he is attending a summit of Pacific Rim leaders. "It's not easy to reach a trade agreement, more so when you need 34 countries to agree. But we're getting closer." The so-called Doha round of trade liberalization talks in the 148-member WTO has stalled because of disputes over agriculture and other issues, which recent talks in Europe have failed to resolve.

Fox said Mexico, Canada, the United States and Peru discussed the FTAA issue at a meeting Friday on the sidelines of the APEC meeting and confirmed their support for it.

At that meeting, Fox said he spoke individually with U.S. President George W. Bush about bilateral trade, border issues and U.S. immigration reform legislation pending in Congress, reports the AP. I.L.