HEMISPHERE CLOSING DOWN

The Brazil-led Mercosur trading bloc has dealt another blow to hemispheric free trade by proposing to raise import tariffs with nonmember countries by 25 percent. Coming after last week's vote denying President Clinton the fast-track authority needed to expand Nafta southward, this would reverse the course of hemispheric free trade.

For U.S. multinationals that see Latin America as a very promising region, this is also a double whammy just days after Brazil's decision to jack up interest rates.In the debt crisis of two decades ago, the victims of the governments' addlebrained economic policies were mainly foreign banks. This time, however, the Latin governments may be hurting those who stand behind their economic growth - foreign companies making strategic investment in their industries.

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