For Immediate Release
Office of the Press Secretary
September 24, 2008
President Bush Discusses Free Trade with Western Hemisphere Leaders
Council of the Americas
New York, New York
In Focus: Global Diplomacy
8:01 A.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: Listen, thank you all very much for being here. I'm joined by leaders throughout our hemisphere to discuss trade and prosperity. I know they're going to want to hear about the rescue plan that we have submitted to the Congress. They can see our legislative process is full of give-and-take, that there's ample debate, but I am confident that when it's all said and done, there will be a robust plan. And there needs to be.
Each of the 11 countries here has a free trade agreement with the United States, or one pending before Congress. Free and fair trade is in our mutual interests.
What's interesting about free and fair trade amongst the nations is that the people benefit. For example, the Central American-Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement is in its early stages, but trade between participating countries with the United States is up 23 percent. That translates to jobs and prosperity. In the five years since the free trade agreement between the United States and Chile took effect, trade between our two nations has increased by more than 180 percent. And that's positive. In other words, these agreements are mutually benefit. And most importantly, they help small business owners and workers and farmers and ranchers.
In the nearly 15 years since NAFTA entered into force, trade between the United States, Canada and Mexico has increased by a combined total of more than 200 percent.
Today our countries are launching the Pathways to Prosperity in the Americas Initiative to continue this progress. This initiative will provide a forum where leaders can work to ensure that the benefits of trade are broadly shared. It will deepen the connections among regional markets. It will expand our cooperation on development issues. This is a very promising initiative, and I expect positive results when our representatives meet on these issues later this year.
It's important for the American people to understand that exports benefit workers. Half of our growth last year was the result of trade. And therefore, it's in our interest to continue to open up markets, particularly in our own neighborhood. There are three free trade agreements pending in the Congress today: South Korea, Panama and Colombia. Obviously, two of those are with nations in our own hemisphere. The Colombia free trade agreement will be good for Colombia; it will be good for America. The President and I have worked diligently to make sure this is a fair agreement, and Congress needs to pass it.
The Panamanian agreement is good for Panama, it's good for America, and Congress ought to pass that agreement, too. It's important that these agreements be passed as soon as possible.
I want to thank the leaders for joining us. I'm looking forward to our discussion. I appreciate your hard work in working to make sure your people and your countries have great opportunities. One such opportunity is access to jobs provided by markets.
Thank you for your vision, and thank you for your leadership. Thank you.
END 8:05 A.M. EDT