The chairman of Canada's biggest bank has thrown his support behind a proposed North American free-trade agreement, adding that he hoped it could be replicated in South American as well.

Allan R. Taylor, chairman and chief executive officer of Royal Bank of Canada, suggested that once an agreement with Mexico is reached, it be extended to "a megadeal gradually encompassing other countries of the Western Hemisphere."

Mr. Taylor's remarks came Wednesday in an address before a joint meeting of the Americas Society and the Council of the Americas in New York City.

Negotiators from the three countries hope to finish drafting a North American free-trade agreement by the end of this month.

Specter of Protectionism

Mr. Taylor, however, warned that rising U.S. government protectionism was undermining the existing free-trade agreement with Canada and urged American business leaders to "resist the temptation to join elements of the bureaucracy in resorting to protectionism."

Citing the recent rulings on imports of Canadian-built Honda cars and Canadian softwood lumber, Mr. Taylor said there is growing cause for concern over restrictions being set for Canadian steel imports into the United States.

Mr. Taylor put the annual volume of trade between the two countries at about $215 billion in U.S. currency and warned that the United States has a vested interest in the health of the Canadian economy.

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