Peru’s Garcia says he’s open to private dialogue with Bolivia’s Morales on free trade issue

Shrugging off some nasty comments about his weight and ideological disposition, President Alan Garcia said Monday he would be happy to meet with Bolivian President Evo Morales to privately discuss Peru’s free trade policies.

“I will always be willing to speak with Evo Morales, wherever he wishes. What interests me is convincing him about the advantages of free trade as well as the necessity Peru and Bolivia have to connect to international markets,” Garcia told Radioprogramas radio Monday.

Morales’ invitation to discuss the U.S.-Peru FTA comes on the heels of him calling Garcia “very fat and not very anti-imperialist” last week.

Last month the two countries got into a diplomatic spat in which Peru delivered a letter of protest to Bolivia over Morales’ allegation that Peru’s demand for the extradition of his former adviser Walter Chávez was a CIA conspiracy being used to discredit his leftist administration.

Morales has accused Peru of wanting to dismantle the Andean Community of Nations trade bloc in order to sign additional bilateral trade agreements and has said Peru violated the bloc’s internal rules by failing to get approval from its Andean neighbors before going it alone, signing a bilateral deal with Washington that was ratified Dec. 14 by U.S. President George W. Bush.

He has also complained that Peru and Colombia are moving ahead too quickly with FTA negotiations with Europe and threatened Monday to use his influence within the Andean Community — which includes Peru, Bolivia, Colombia and Ecuador — to derail the talks.

“If Peru wants a free trade agreement with the European Union, it’s not because we are against the association with Chile, Bolivia or Ecuador,” Garcia said. “It’s because we know that without a connection with international markets we won’t make any progress.”

“I am certain that any misunderstanding can be resolved through dialogue. If everyone goes their own way, we can still be friends, but there isn’t a reason to go separate ways,” he added.

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