PORT-OF-SPAIN, Trinidad (AP) _ Tiny Caribbean nations don't have the resources to negotiate entry to the North American Free Trade Agreement and should focus on Latin American markets instead, a Caribbean trade official said.

``It cost Mexico hundreds of millions of dollars, employing nearly 200 high-level technical negotiators, full time, over a period of two years to gain entry to NAFTA,'' said Simon Molina Duarte, Secretary-General of the Association of Caribbean States.

``Which Caribbean government has that resource base to expend on gaining access to the Free Trade Area?'' he asked.

Trade between the United States and Mexico amounted to more than $50 billion annually, which justified the huge sum Mexico spent to negotiate its membership in NAFTA, Molina Duarte told a news conference Thursday to mark the first anniversary of the 24-nation bloc.

It includes the 14-member Caribbean Community trade bloc as well as Colombia, Costa Rica, Panama, Mexico, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Panama and Honduras.

The benefits of NAFTA are uncertain for small Caribbean economies, said Molina Duarte. Brazil, he said, is the only other Latin American country that could afford to negotiate a NAFTA deal, but Brazil is not interested.

The best long-term strategy for the Caribbean was to work with its Latin American partners in the Association of Caribbean States toward the Free Trade Area of the Americas scheduled to be formalized in 2005, he said.