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Obama completes Central American tour with focus on trade relations


10:33, May 05, 2013

Costa Rica's President Laura Chinchilla (R) and U.S. President Barack Obama take part in the Central American Forum for a Sustainable Economic Development, in San Jose, capital of Costa Rica, on May 4, 2013. (Xinhua/Kent Gilbert)

SAN JOSE, May 4 (Xinhua) -- U.S. President Barack Obama on Saturday stressed the "enormous potential" of trade relations between the United States and Central America, highlighting the crucial role of the private sector in the economic development of this region.

Concluding a three-day tour in Mexico and Costa Rica, Obama attended a forum here with 170 Central American entrepreneurs to discuss issues such as regional security, economic cooperation and immigration reform.

The United States wants to "find ways to improve commercial relations" with Central America, Obama said at the start of the forum, which was organized by the Central American Institute for Business Administration (INCAE) and the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB).

Obama said that it is important to "enhance the development of small businesses to be competitive throughout the region," adding that security cooperation with Central America is critical, but noted that it is important to also address other issues such as trade and immigration.

The president expressed his interest in improving security in the region. "We have focused a lot on safety issues, it is difficult to create a strong economy when people are insecure," Obama said.

He stressed the need for the region to improve its infrastructure, especially at border crossings, as it is at these points where transportation costs rise in Central America.

On this point, Obama recommended Central American nations to improve border facilities to enable the rapid movement of people and goods, while stopping the "undesirable elements" that try to cross the borders.

The U.S. president also reiterated his optimism that his country's Congress could approve soon an immigration reform pertaining to the situation of more than 11 million illegal immigrants living and working in the United States.

"There's no reason that immigration reform can't become a reality this year," Obama said, adding that the reform "will open the way for millions of illegal immigrants to get their citizenship" and prevent "victims from abuse and exploitation."

On the subject of education, Obama mentioned that one of the main investments a country can make in the development of its people is expanding and improving programs for the education of children from an early age.

"Science shows that early and efficient education pays better development dividends. If children can read and are taught with numbers and colors, they will be more successful in their performance in future, "said the president.

Obama said he is proposing the creation of a new tobacco tax to promote the expansion of early childhood programs, as he believes the United States is lagging behind other OECD countries in this field.

Obama arrived here Friday to attend the May 3-4 summit of the Central American Integration System (SICA), which drew together leaders of Central America and regional powers of the Americas.

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