News & Policies >
For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
July 21, 2005
President Promotes Central American Free Trade Agreement
Organization of American States
10:12 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you all. Siéntese. (Applause.) Thank you very much for the warm welcome. Thank you to the Hispanic Alliance For Free Trade for inviting me here today. And thanks to the Organization of American States for providing this fantastic forum.
What a beautiful building. What makes it even more beautiful is that the Organization of American States promotes democracy and freedom. There's nothing more beautiful than freedom. And I appreciate your commitment to democracy and freedom. And I appreciate the chance to come to talk about a treaty -- CAFTA -- that will not only provide more prosperity in our hemisphere, it's not only a good deal for American workers and business owners and farmers, this treaty will help spread democracy and peace.
Thanks for letting me come by. Raul, thank you. Muchos gracias. It's good to see you again. Raul is such a strong leader in the Latino community in my state of Texas that he had the high honor of having a school named for him. I can't thank you enough for being the leader you have been. And thank you Anne Alonzo for inviting me here today, and for helping us get the bill passed.
For those of you who are members of the Hispanic Alliance For Free Trade, I want to remind you, it's one thing to come and listen to a President speak; it's another thing to work the halls of Congress, so people speak by their votes, people that listen to you in a concrete way. So thanks for coming. Thanks for being a part of passing CAFTA.
I want to thank the Secretary General, General Insulza. Thank you, sir, for you. I want to thank the Vice President, Samuel Lewis, of the Republic of Panama. I appreciate the members of the Diplomatic Corps who are here. I particularly want to thank the diplomats from Central America and the Dominican Republic. I urge you to work the bill. I urge you to let people know the consequence of passage and the consequences of failure. It's important for people to understand the stakes.
I want to thank the Permanent Representatives to the Organization of American States. I want to thank my friend, Ambassador Juan Maisto -- Embajador. Thank you, Juan, for being here.
I appreciate the members of my Cabinet who are working hard on this piece of legislation. We got the Secretary of Agriculture, Mike Johanns, who is with us. Secretary Carlos Gutierrez is with us here. Ambassador Rob Portman, who is the point person from my administration on this important piece of legislation. They're working hard; I'm working hard.
I want to thank the people from the United States Congress who've joined us: Ileana Ros-Lehtinen from Florida, I'm glad you're here, thanks for coming. Randy Neugebauer from West Texas, thank you for coming, Randy. Henry Cuellar, south Texas -- sur de Tejas. And, finally, Charlie Dent, thanks for coming. I'm proud you all are here. Thanks for lending your support to this important occasion. I've made my decision to support this bill because I think it's in the best interest of the country.
As a matter of fact, I make a lot of decisions as your President. I made one the other night, when I announced my nomination of Judge John Roberts to the Supreme Court. (Applause.) I appreciate so very much the reception he's receiving in the United States Senate. I want to thank the senators from both political parties who are giving Judge Roberts a chance to talk about his heart, to talk about his philosophy.
He is a person that will make all Americans proud to be a member of the Supreme Court. He is a -- he's got the experience, wisdom, fairness and civility to be a really good judge. He has a profound respect for the rule of law. He respects the liberties guaranteed in our Constitution to all Americans, from -- people from all walks of life. He'll strictly apply the Constitution; he's not going to legislate from the bench.
The United States Senate can show our country that it's able to have a civil debate on this very important nomination -- not only a civil debate, but a timely debate. It's important for Judge Roberts to be confirmed by the time the Court reconvenes in October. I thank the Senate for their action today. I urge the Senate to do its duty to have a fair, timely hearing, and get this good man confirmed in time for the October reconvening of the Court. (Applause.)
We'll be talking about our economy and liberty in our neighborhood here in a minute, but I want to remind you all, want to remind leaders from our country, and of course the leaders from other countries that are here, that we're living in historic times. And one of the reasons I say that is we're still at war, see. And it's important for all of us who love freedom to understand that this is a war being fought against ideologues that use terror to advance an agenda. This is a war against killers, cold-blooded killers who embrace an ideology of hatred. Their vision of the world is the opposite of our vision of the world. We believe in human rights, human dignity, minority rights and religious rights. We believe in universal freedoms.
They have a different view of the world. They don't believe in women's rights. They have usurped a great religion and defined it in their terms. And if you happen to live in a society in which they're dominant, like the Taliban was in Afghanistan, and if you don't adhere to their view of religion, you're punished. They have territorial designs. They have the desire to use their terrorist techniques to frighten us. In other words, they understand when they kill in cold blood it ends up on our TV screens. And they're trying to shake our will. And they're trying to create vacuums into which their ideology can move.
They don't understand our country, though. They don't understand that when it comes to the defense of universal freedoms, this country won't be frightened. We will defend ourselves by staying on the offense against these killers. We will find them overseas so we don't have to face them here at home. And at the same time we understand that to defeat an ideology of hate, you work to spread an ideology of hope. And there's nothing more hopeful than a system which recognizes the rights of people, in which government is accountable to the people. And that system is democracy, based upon universal freedom. (Applause.)
We are laying the foundation for peace for generations to come. As we fight the terrorists and defend this homeland, we're also working to make sure this economy is strong and vibrant -- and we've got reason for optimism. The tax relief we delivered is working. This economy of ours has overcome a lot and now it's the fastest-growing economy of any major industrialized nation in the world. Inflation is low. We're well ahead of reaching our goal to cut our deficit in half by 2009. We've had 25 consecutive months of job gains. The unemployment rate is down to 5 percent. More people are working today in America than ever before in our nation's history.
And one of the reasons why is because this administration recognizes that the way you grow an economy is you stimulate the entrepreneurial sector. Government doesn't create wealth, government creates an environment in which the entrepreneur is willing to take risks. And I'm pleased to report the entrepreneurial spirit in our Latino communities across the country is strong, vibrant and doing well. (Applause.)
We believe in encouraging ownership. The more people own something, the better off this country will be. We want more people owning their own business. Because of the vibrancy of our economy, the Hispanic unemployment rate has dropped to 5.8 percent, down from 8.4 percent two years ago. More people are working. More Hispanics own their home than ever before in our nation's history, and that's great news for the American society. (Applause.) SBA loans to Hispanic-owned businesses are up by --doubled since I took office. In other words, there is a role for government to help. But the Hispanic community is an entrepreneurial community to begin with, and it's responding and it's really good news for the country.
Therefore, it doesn't surprise me to learn that many Hispanic entrepreneurs and business owners and leaders understand the importance of expanding trade within our hemisphere. And that is why you have come to lend your support to the Central American-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement, and I'm grateful. By eliminating barriers to exports from our country, CAFTA will help keep the U.S. economy growing. In other words, this is a jobs program. This will help jobs.
By opening up Central America and the Dominican Republic to U.S. trade and investment, CAFTA will help those countries develop a better life for their citizens. That seems to make sense to me. I mean, if you're living in a neighborhood, you want your neighbors doing well. If you're a good neighbor you say, gosh, I hope everybody in the neighborhood is succeeding. And by helping those economies improve, CAFTA will help the nations strengthen their democracies. And that's in our national security interest. That's makes us all more secure.
So this bill is more than a trade bill. This bill is a commitment of freedom-loving nations to advance peace and prosperity throughout the Western hemisphere. And that's important for members of Congress to understand.
CAFTA begins by ensuring that free trade is fair trade. I mean -- you know, I traveled the country quite extensively in the recent past and said, I'm a free trader. But I reminded people in our country I'm also for fair trade. It's one thing to advocate free trade; I believe the government has a role to make sure that trade is fair for all of us. In other words, we want people treating us the way we treat them.
It turns out that exports from Central America into the United States face almost no tariffs. Now, I don't see how a member of Congress can go back to his or her district and say this is a good deal for America, when our exports to Central America face hefty tariffs. In other words, if you're for free trade you ought to be insisting that the trade be fair. And the only thing that makes the trade fair to me, seems like, is to say to our friends in Central America, just treat us the way we treat you.
And that's what CAFTA does -- it eliminates tariffs on our goods and services going into Central America. In other words, they treat us the way we treat them. It levels the playing field, which makes this a good deal for America's farmers and small business owners and manufacturers.
Last year, United States businesses exported more than $15 billion of goods to Central America. Now, when I say "export goods," people got to understand that means somebody is more likely to have a job. It means somebody is producing something that somebody wants in Central America, which is part of the employment picture in our country. Our business leaders say that CAFTA would significantly increase exports to the region. That's why I say this is a job program. As exports go up, somebody is either more likely to find a job or somebody is more likely to retain a job.
Take this example. California's Haas Automation Company, it is the largest machine tool manufacturer in the United States. They strongly support this piece of legislation. It says that with CAFTA, it expects to increase sales to Central America tenfold. In other words, they see business opportunity, which means job opportunity for somebody who's helping Haas Automation manufacture equipment that somebody in Central America wants to purchase.
Again, another company example here. It's called, "Bush Hog." I don't know why they would have put this example in this speech. (Laughter.) I hope it wasn't named after me. (Laughter.) But it is an Alabama company that makes farm equipment like backhoes and tillers and rotary cutters. And the folks at Bush Hog say that farmers in Central America would find their high-quality, made-in-the-United States machinery attractive -- if the tariffs on that equipment would be eliminated. So when you hear me say "tariff," that really means it's pricing our equipment out of the reach of the market. That's what a tariff does. It's like a tax.
So the good folks at Bush Hog manufacture something somebody wants to buy, but it's too pricey -- not because of the cost of the product they produce, but because of government action. And so the purpose of NAFTA [sic] is to remove the trade barriers. Now, we've had people look at this piece of legislation, the National Association of Manufacturers -- people that represent people who manufacture something here in America, say that CAFTA would increase our manufacture exports to the region by a billion dollars, a 7 percent increase. That's good news for the manufacturing sector of the American economy.
The American Farm Bureau -- they represent farmers, needless to say -- estimate that by the time CAFTA is fully implemented, it would increase U.S. farm exports by as much as $1.5 billion. Let me talk about farming real quick. We produce more than we consume in the United States. And, therefore, it makes sense for government policy and for our Secretary of Agriculture to work to find markets for that which we produce. And if the products we produce are taxed via tariff, it makes those products more expensive than need be. And, therefore, by reducing tariffs on agricultural exports from the United States, it opened up markets for our ranchers and farmers.
The U.S. International Trade Commission says that by passing CAFTA we will reduce the trade deficit by more than $750 million. So this bill is good for the overall financial picture of the United States. That's why the United States House of Representatives, next week, ought to understand the economic wisdom of this bill, and open up the market of 44 million consumers to U.S. businesses, U.S. farms, and U.S. manufacturers. (Applause.)
CAFTA includes strong enforcement provisions that go further than previous trade agreements. To protect our textile workers from unfair competition, CAFTA gives our Custom agents the ability to conduct surprise visits on Central American factories. It's one way you make sure trade is fair, you're being treated fairly.
To promote a cleaner environment, CAFTA includes provisions that will monitor and enforce environmental progress. To ensure that Central American factories abide by acceptable labor standards, CAFTA insists on stiff fines for violations. And the United States government has committed about $180 million over five years to ensure that labor laws are enforced. CAFTA is a trade agreement that will be enforced. And we've got the money in the budget to do so.
CAFTA will help the nations of Central America deliver prosperity and opportunity for their citizens. Let me repeat that. CAFTA is not only good for us, it's good for their partners. That's a fair deal. That's what you want. You want an agreement to be balanced and fair. We want the agreement to be good for us, but we also want the agreement to be good for our friends. It's a lousy deal if it's a zero-sum deal. This is a good deal for CAFTA nations.
CAFTA will help nations attract investment they need for their economies to grow. In other words, with a stable trading agreement with the United States, it will make it much easier for investment to flow to our CAFTA friends. And investment means growth and opportunity. That's what that means.
By reducing tariffs on our products, CAFTA will allow consumers in their countries to enjoy goods and services at better prices. If a country doesn't produce a lot of a particular product and they need it, and it's got a tariff on it, it means the consumers pay an additional price. By reducing tariffs, it means that consumers in the CAFTA nations will be able to more likely purchase that which they want at a better price. It seems like to make sense to me that if you lower the cost of food products coming from the United States to CAFTA, that's beneficial for a mom trying to buy food for her child. This is consumer-friendly in the CAFTA countries.
By lowering tariffs, CAFTA will give Central American businesses less -- less costly access to high-quality machinery. In other words, it's going to be beneficial for the small business owner, or the large business owner, the person who employs people in the CAFTA country to be able to buy machinery necessary to stay competitive.
By bringing economic growth -- in other words, these are all elements of creating growth -- increasing consumer demand by lowering prices, increasing investment make it more likely people will be able to purchase the equipment they need to stay competitive -- all this leads to more growth, which will help contribute to a vibrant middle class. And that's what we want in our neighborhood. We want there to be prosperity. We want people to have a better chance at a better life. It's in our nation's advantage that prosperity grow throughout the neighborhood.
Elected leaders of Central America know that by opening up their nations' markets to competition they're helping to raise standards for their own businesses and farmers. In other words, if you protect industries, it tends to become non-competitive. It's very important for our societies to remain productive, and productivity increases happen because of competition.
By giving their garment makers an incentive to use U.S. fabrics and materials, our partners are creating really a regional partnership that will help both of us -- both the CAFTA nations and the Dominican Republic and the United States -- compete with Asian producers that are using Asian materials. And that's important for members of Congress to understand, that if we want to -- this agreement will help us remain competitive with Asian producers on certain products.
People of Central America have made their choice. They know their economic future lies in free and fair trade with the United States. They've said, we want to join with the United States. And that's important. When this bill is passed, this country will be sending a strong message: We want to join with you, as well. You want to join with us in free and fair trade; we want to join with you. And it's that alliance of interest that will make this neighborhood better. And it's important for members of Congress to understand that.
We cannot, and should not, reject these young democracies. We must support democracy in our neighborhood. And CAFTA will strengthen democracies. CAFTA nations a while ago were struggling with dictatorship and tyranny and civil strife. It wasn't all that long ago that a lot of our foreign policy was occupied by actions that had been taken by governments in Central America. Today, I'm more than proud to welcome democracies to the Oval Office. These are peaceful countries. These are freedom-loving countries. (Applause.)
The leaders of these nations have made impressive gains toward establishing -- firmly establishing democracy. But these gains cannot be taken for granted. And that's important for members of the United States House of Representatives to understand clearly. Democracy cannot be taken for granted. We must provide the foundation for democracy through smart policy, CAFTA's smart policy. It's good trade policy. It makes it more likely somebody is going to be able to work in America when we pass CAFTA, but it also helps the neighborhood.
You see, there's no democracy -- those new democracies in Central America still face forces that oppose democratic government. Make no mistake about it -- there are people in our own neighborhood that oppose democracy; they're trying to separate our friends from the United States by sewing resentment and anger. People of this region need to see that democracy produces more than just free elections, that democracy produces measurable progress in their lives. As the oldest democracy in this hemisphere, we have a moral obligation and a vital interest in helping the Central American economies and societies succeed. And, therefore, CAFTA needs to be passed.
By strengthening democracy in the region, CAFTA will lead to greater security and stability. I appreciate so very much the hard work of the Central American leadership. I've had a chance to visit with these good folks. As a matter of fact, they've been coming to America quite often, and I've been going there sometimes. And that's important; that's what friends do, they strategize, they talk. The American people have got to understand, we've got friends in the leadership in Central America. And they're working hard to punish corruption and keep the streets safe. They're working hard to make sure they have a society that respects human rights and the rule of law. We're working together to nail the drug traffickers and terrorists and criminal gangs who feed on lawlessness and instability.
CAFTA will strengthen those who are taking on the forces of radicalism and violence in this hemisphere, and it will make our country more secure. As former governor of a state that shares a long border with Mexico, I know first-hand the importance of improving ties with our neighbors. It's really important that you've got strong ties in a neighborhood in which you live. I understand the importance of removing trade barriers that make it difficult for our businesses and farmers to compete.
This bill that the House of Representatives will be voting on next week is pro-jobs, pro-growth, and pro-democracy. It is important that we pass this piece of legislation. And I want to thank you all for giving me a chance to come and talk about its importance. And I encourage you to keep doing what you're doing, is talking to members of the United States Congress and remind them, set aside partisan politics for the good of the United States of America. It's in our economic interests, it's in our national security interests that the House of Representatives join the United States Senate and pass that CAFTA bill, which I'll proudly sign on behalf of America's workers and small businesses and those of us who love and cherish democracy.
May God bless you. (Applause.)
END 10:40 A.M. EDT