President Bush urged Congress today to pass a free trade agreement for Central America and the Dominican Republic, saying it would bring new investment, better jobs and higher pay to workers in Latin America while at the same time helping U.S. businesses exporting goods there.
Speaking to an Organization of American States meeting in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Bush said a hemisphere linked by trade was also "less likely to be divided by resentment and false ideologies."
"The United States shares a commitment with you to build an Americas that live in liberty, trades in freedom and grows in prosperity," Bush said to the foreign ministers of North and South American nations at a three-day OAS assembly meeting in south Florida.
The meeting marked the first time the group has met in the United States since 1974. And it comes at a time when left-leaning governments have come to power in Brazil, Argentina and Chile and anti-American sentiment is seen to be growing in parts of Latin America.
Bush said that the last time the meeting was held in the United States, "fewer than half" of the 34 OAS member states had democratically elected governments. Now, he said, Cuba was the only country in the Western Hemisphere "that sits outside this society of democratic nations."
"One day the tide of freedom will reach Cuba's shores," Bush said.
He said that the Central American and Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement, or CAFTA, currently being considered by the U.S. Congress, offered an "opportunity to bring prosperity to the citizens of our hemisphere who have not known it."
Bush said that for the nations of Central America, the agreement would bring new investment, which he said means "good jobs and higher labor standards for their workers."
He said that for U.S. farmers and businesses, on the other hand, the agreement would create a more level playing field for their goods and services and open up a market of 44 million consumers.
Under the agreement, tariffs would be reduced on U.S. goods sold in Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua. Currently, most of Central America's exports already enter the U.S. duty free, Bush said. He said reducing tariffs on U.S. exports would mean small businesses in Central would pay less for costly U.S. machinery and equipment, which would make them more competitive.